George Strait’s 30th Release is a Testament to Golden Age Nashville Music

Honky Tonk Time Machine is a strong release for fans of classic country which will please the audience it’s made for quite well, even if it doesn’t bring new fans in.

George Strait is a country music icon from Pearsall, Texas. He released 18 albums from the start of the 1980’s through the 1990’s, all of which went platinum. In total, Strait has released 23 platinum records, placing him third all time for the most gold and platinum releases, behind only Elvis and The Beatles. He also holds the title for the most number one singles of any artist in any genre. He’s largely seen as one of the most influential country artists of all time having toured consistently for multiple years and being named as “Artist of the Decade,” for his work in the 2000’s.

The album was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, and Music City’s influence bleeds through every song, particularly in the tightness of the instrumentation. Paul Franklin, an absolute legend in country and outlaw music, helms the steel guitar which shines blindingly on “Some Nights,” but decorates virtually every cut perfectly. Bluegrass icon Stuart Duncan plays violin and mandolin as well, both of which are particularly noticeable on one of the album’s lead singles, “Codigo.” As is often the case with modern records from country icons, the instrumental personnel on Honky Tonk Time Machine is absolutely stacked.

Not to be outdone, however, George Strait gives quite a few impressive vocal performances himself. On “Sometimes Love,” for example, his tight runs and thick baritone timbre are pure country and represent a sound that Strait himself pioneered. He’s even more impressive on “Old Violin,” in which he sings with quite a bit of sincerity and vulnerability about coming to grips with his age and waning status within the industry. Ultimately, George’s voice still holds up to this day thanks to his soft touch and laid back style.

The strongest point to the record is fairly multifaceted, but can be generally summed up as great songwriting. Lyrically, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but the shortcomings are mostly hidden by the fact that several of these tracks are just a blast to listen to. From the very funny concept of a song like “Two More Wishes,” to the Buffet-esque, island dwelling sound of “Blue Water,” and even the roaring blues riffs on the title track, the majority of this album is simply enjoyable.

On top of this, some of the slower, sappier songs dodge the common pitfalls of being boring or overly idealistic by leaning heavily into the very most classic cliche’s of the genre. “God And Country Music,” is heavily driven by twanging violins and an impassioned vocal performance while “The Weight of the Badge,” benefits quite a bit from a well played acoustic guitar. These tracks will likely turn off many outsiders and casual fans, but if you appreciate the works of country’s golden age, these are quite enjoyable.

Best of all, George and his team of cowriters are fantastically talented when it comes to writing hooks and choruses. The opener, “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar,” for example, will rattle around the minds of listeners for days after the first listen thanks to an extremely catchy chorus. The closer and strongest cut, “Sing One With Willie,” is hilarious and extremely listenable, brought together perfectly by the singable hook which is sung by both Strait and fellow country legend, Willie Nelson.

I do have a few gripes with the album. As I said, the lyricism leaves quite a bit to be desired on most of the tracklist. On top of this, George’s voice doesn’t sit all that well in the more bluegrass inspired tracks like “Codigo.” The worst offense however, comes in the production by longtime Nashville engineer, Chuck Ainlay, who can’t seem to keep his hands out of these tracks. Most of the mixing is relatively inoffensive but the vocal tuning makes the lead feel somewhat lifeless very often and several of the harmonies just don’t quite mesh. This can often be ignored, but tracks like “Take Me Away,” and “What Goes Up,” are nearly ruined by the production.

All told, George Strait’s 30th LP is a fun addition to his legendary catalog. It’s full of enjoyable callbacks to the sound of country’s golden age with a few interesting twists and it’s extremely well performed, despite several hiccups along the way.

Honky Tonk Time Machine is a strong release for fans of classic country which will please the audience it’s made for quite well, even if it doesn’t bring new fans in.

5/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

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Maren Morris Gives Her All on Mixed Sophomore Project

GIRLS is at times fun, at times disappointing, but at every turn frustratingly less than what it could have been.

Maren Morris is a pop-country singer from Nashville, Tennessee. She debuted with a self-titled EP in 2015 which found massive success and put Morris on the map and landed her a deal with Columbia Records. The EP was rereleased on the label with yet another wave of positive reception and kicked off a tour as a supporting act for Keith Urban. In 2016, she released her debut LP, Hero which was yet another impressive success. The album peaked at number five on the Billboard charts and netted four Grammy nominations including Best Country Album and a win for Best Country Solo Performance on “My Church.” Early this month, Maren was announced as a third member of the supergroup, The Highwomen, joining forces with Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires with a fourth slot filled by a revolving door of women, including Sheryl Crow and Margo Price among others. With her career booming, Maren Morris’ second LP, GIRL is here, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

It’s clear from the first moment that Morris is perfectly willing to experiment on this project. The opening title track and the closer, “Shade,” are especially notable, both for their genre-bending styles and their fairly unique chord progressions. She’s certainly not reinventing the wheel, but what small risks she does take pay off thanks to a full commitment on each cut and the refreshing nature of hearing a new idea in modern, mainstream country.

Melodically, this album is extremely listenable. Tracks like “Gold Love,” or “To Hell & Back,” will be stuck in your head for days thanks to Maren’s ability to write extremely singable vocal lines. While much of the instrumental work behind her is a bit cookie cutter, Morris’ work picks up much of the slack.

This brings us to what is, by far, this records strongest quality and, at a few points, its saving grace. Maren Morris’ vocal performances are purely excellent. Even on a relatively silly song like “The Feels,” every second is believable because of her passion and energy. The same is true for “Great Ones,” later in the tracklist. Yet again, we have a song that is fairly forgettable if not for the powerful and dynamic voice leading it.

This being said, much of the record comes up mixed for me and the lyrics are one such area. Perhaps the best song on the entire project, “A Song for Everything,” is exactly what I ask for from this kind of an album. We have a unique theme, a few quirky turns of phrase, and an overall fun listen. Much of the album, however, feels somewhat lazy and rushed, with several lines coming off as cheesy and shallow.

Instrumentation, on the other hand, is almost uniformly weak across the entire runtime. Aside from the Brothers Osborne feature on “All My Favorite People,” essentially every other second of the album is completely uninventive and thoughtless. “Make Out With Me,” is likely the worst offender here as its structure seems to evoke the kinds of lush, orchestral arrangements of artists like Amanda Shires and Sturgill Simpson, the actual education just leans on a boring, shallow synth and a few cheap sounding violins.

Even worse than this is the production. Tracks like “Flavor,” and “Good Woman,” feel totally lifeless, not to mention the poorly placed effects. This is especially irritating on a song like “Common,” where strong lyrics and a fairly enjoyable Brandi Carlile feature are ruined by flat mixing and boring production.

Branching off from the production comes the record’s worst quality: the over reliance on bottled, looped drums. This is a pervasive trend across country music, largely driven by acts like Florida Georgia Line, in which a real drummer is replaced with computerized drums. The goal is to save money and modernize the sound a bit, but instead it sucks the life out nearly every track on which it’s tried and the same is true for GIRLS. “RSVP,” and “The Bones,” are especially egregious, but nearly all of this album suffers as a result of this choice.

All in all, GIRLS is a fun listen. It’s a good sophomore project for Maren Morris and she puts in quite the effort, but it’s undercut by a lack of such effort from everyone else involved.

GIRLS is at times fun, at times disappointing, but at every turn frustratingly less than what it could have been.

4/10

Florida Georgia Line Hits Rock Bottom and Just Keeps Digging

May God have mercy on our souls.

Florida Georgia Line is a Pop/Country duo from Nashville, Tennessee. They debuted on Republic Records in 2012 with Here’s to the Good Times. The double platinum LP attempted to meld elements of radio and stadium country with a few very basic qualities of rap and hip-hop. This came to head on the album’s diamond single, “Cruise,” which officially became the most most successful country single in music history. From here, they would release two more studio records-Anything Goes in 2014 and Dig Your Roots in 2016-each going platinum.

Despite what their success may imply, FGL is a bit of a polarizing act in the country music scene. The success which artists like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell have found by calling back to a simpler, more raw form of country music has created something of a backlash against the bulk of modern country. A growing movement of purists and critics criticize the duo, and many others like them, for their abandonment of more traditionally country qualities. Instead, the modern country movement, often referred to as “stadium country,” focuses on more relatable topics of drinking and women, while incorporating elements of other popular genres in an attempt to gain crossover popularity. With their self-titled EP in 2018, I thought they’d hit rock bottom, but after hearing Can’t Say I Ain’t Country, it appears they brought a shovel.

The most noticeable new addition to the FGL tool box on this LP is the several skits, including the “Tyler Got Him a Tesla” skit which opens the album. Each of these is not only remarkably unfunny and out of place on this album, but they leave me bewildered as to why they’re even here. As best I can tell, the character of Brother Jervel seems to be an egregiously stereotypical redneck and these extended phone messages are meant to remind us all that the duo hasn’t lost their roots. Instead, they’ve made four painfully uninteresting, 50 second clips that are somehow still the best part of the record.

Another blatant weak spot comes in the melodies of nearly every track. At some points, like the closer, “Blessings,” for example, the melody is so scatterbrained and unorganized that listeners find themselves increasingly lost as it goes along. On the other hand, tracks like “Simple,” or “Colorado,” are somehow simultaneously catchy and unlistenable. In a nearly 50 minute runtime, there is not one single interesting melody to be found.

Of course, we simply have to discuss the features on this album. Jason Derulo is so out of place on “Women,” that I simply can’t believe that he was ever even in the studio with either member of FGL, but instead recorded his part with one take from his home and sent it in. HARDY’s verse on the atrociously titled “Y’all Boys,” is absolutely impossible to differentiate from the vocals we’ve heard from the central duo. Jason Aldean all but takes over “Can’t Hide Red,” and somehow it’s just as bad as the rest of the album.

This horrid set of features still acts as a merciful rest from the all out assault on the eardrums that is FGL’s lead vocals. On songs like “People Are Different,” “Told You,” and “Sittin’ Pretty,” as well as the entirety of their catalog, these two men seem to be locked in a constant battle to make the least pleasing noise that has ever oozed from a human mouth. The mix of country twang, nasal belting, and inability to correctly pronounce words, all drenched in pitch correction creates a Frankenstein’s Monster of sound that can only be called genuinely horrifying.

Shockingly, we’ve barely scratched the surface here. The production on this album just can’t be ignored. This is especially in terms of production as I’ve never, in my life, heard a drum kit that is mixed worse than the one that poisons nearly all of these tracks. The cymbals on a track like “Talk You Out of It,” are nothing but pure static. I’ve never heard this before, especially from a major label, but they just use static as a cymbal. Additionally, a track like “Small Town,” utilizes the trap drumming which I’ve previously complained about on past FGL efforts, but that I admittedly found almost relieving compared to the unlistenable attempt at organic drumming we’re given on Can’t Say I Ain’t Country.

Finally, we have to talk lyrics. The title track, “Speed of Love,” and “Y’all Boys,” should honestly be given sections of the country music hall of fame as, officially, the worst lyrics ever put to paper. The amount of talent it takes to base a song around such horrible central ideas and yet somehow underperform even those ideas is truly awe-inspiring, and to think nearly every track on the album had at least three writers.

There is one more group that I’ll mention before wrapping up. “Like You Never Had It,” and “Swerve,” find themselves here, grouped together by the simple fact that they are so remarkably unlistenable, abhorrently ill-conceived, and just generally awful that my abilities as a music critic just fall short. There is no reason why these songs should exist and they can’t be described, only experienced.

In conclusion, Can’t Say I Ain’t Country has all but broken me as a music listener. It is lyrically, melodically, instrumentally, and technically vapid, leaving no room for enjoyment. All of these complaints are multiplied by the fact that FGL is and will likely remain one of the most successful country acts on the planet.

May God have mercy on our souls.

0/10

Eric Church Turns in Imperfect but Listenable LP

Put simply, Desperate Man gives something to enjoy on every track, and yet leaves much to be desired just as often.

     Eric Church is a country/americana artist from Nashville, TN. He debuted in the late 2000’s with two modestly successful releases on Capitol Records before signing with EMI and dropping 2011’s Chief. The album rode the success of its lead single, “Drink In My Hand,” and went triple platinum, establishing Church as a major player in Nashville’s radio country scene. He followed up with two more LP’s in 2014 and 2015, each of which went platinum and rode singles like “Springsteen,” “Give Me Back My Hometown,” and most recently, “Record Year.”

   Church, especially the version of him presented by EMI, is known for a certain outlaw flare, a more traditional country twang in his vocal, and heavily rock inspired instrumentation. While he is, by no means, a member of the growing outsider movement in country music, he is certainly a more radio friendly form of what people like Stapleton, Isbell, and Simpson are doing. He has tended to position himself against the grain in a few safe ways, but for the most part he is one of the higher quality members of the modern Nashville stable. His recent comment in criticism of the NRA, inspired by his being present at the deadly massacre in Las Vegas in 2017, was easily the most controversy he’s faced in the industry thus far, and they left me curious as to what we’d hear from him next. Well, Desperate Man is here, and it is a mixed bag in just about every way imaginable. We’ll start with the good.

   Church’s vocals on this album are very good. His twang fits very well in most of these tracks and he walks the line between county and blues in an interesting way. Tracks like “Higher Wire,,” and the closer, “Drowning Man,” benefit from this quite a bit and his upper register is surprisingly well executed.

   The instrumentation is also excellent here, perhaps the record’s best quality. The acoustic guitar on “Some Of It,” and the extremely creative opening to “Heart Like a Wheel,” stand out as a few especially exciting moments, and the title track even features a latin percussion section, but Drowning Man is really adorned with excellent instrumental work throughout.

   Eric Church’s ability to write earworm hooks is also here in spades, as it has been on previous projects. The chorus for “Jukebox and a Bar,” is perfectly hummable and the prechorus to the album’s best track, “Hangin’ Around,” is absolutely one of the best hooks of the year. Additionally, “Hippie Radio,” has a fun way of incorporating classic rock phrases into its chorus and will leave you singing along for days to come.

   Even the lyricism is well done here, mainly coming from the mind of Church himself as well as a few friends and collaborators. “The Snake,” for example, opens the record with an enigmatic story over the atmospheric, blue guitar and “Monsters,” is genuinely interesting, playing with the ideas of “killing a monster,” by turning on the light or checking under the bed. These are very nice touches which aren’t expected on a mainstream country album these days.

   For all of these reasons, Desperate Man can hardly be called unenjoyable. However, there are a few deep seeded issues which run through the heart of this album, many of them owing to unfinished ideas.

   There are some horrendous production decisions, most notably the vocal effect on “Solid,” which butchers an otherwise fun cut. The worst offensive, though, is this albums constant tendency to open tracks with the seeds for sprawling, interesting instrumentals before cutting them short in favor of traditional, 16 bar structure. “The Snake,” opens with a long, contemplative guitar riff before being tossed into a rhythmic cage for the song’s duration, “Heart Like A Wheel” features a unique, minor progression which resolves to a more traditional key before Church starts singing, and this happens far more than it should across the entire rest of this project. Plenty of modern country artists, Sturgill Simpson being perhaps the best known, toy with creative and even orchestral introductions, but when this is done, it needs to be further developed throughout the song. Instead, Church teases with a fun idea and expects credit for four bars of it.

   Eric Church isn’t the best artist in country today by any means, but he’s certainly one of the better voices receiving mainstream radio play. On top this, he’s still showing clear signs of growth, now seven releases into his career. Desperate Man is a huge improvement on its predecessor, but there’s still a lot of work to be done, which I worry may hindered by his need to keep his work accessible to larger crowds.

   Put simply, Desperate Man gives something to enjoy on every track, and yet leaves much to be desired just as often.

5/10

HEAR DROWNING MAN: https://open.spotify.com/album/5TjDN2hfsgNWVtP8Ew56Xx

Loretta Lynn Pairs with John Carter Cash For Powerful Album with Legacy Records

Wouldn’t It Be Great avoids the trappings of sentimentality, for the most part, and instead presents the image of an icon continuing to master her craft.

     Loretta Lynn is a legend at a caliber that very few ever reach. She’s been a member of the Grand ‘Ole Opry for more than 50 years, featured in the County Music Hall of Fame, won four Grammys, and even received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2013. After a studio career that spans 41 albums and 55 years, Lynn is now reaching the twilight of her career and she’s doing so with grace.

   Her 2017 album, Full Circle was nominated for the Best Country Album award at the 59th Grammy awards, and having signed with Legacy Records, she doesn’t seem to be done yet. This is especially the case due to the recent resurgence of the outlaw and traditional country styles. Wouldn’t It Be Great released earlier this week and it is yet another great addition to her catalog.

   Lynn’s voice on this record is especially impressive, as she still sounds fantastic after her very long career. This is especially true on her higher, more open notes in tracks like “I’m Dying for Someone to Live For,” or the opening title track. She sings with a power and control that just doesn’t exist in modern country music.

   This is made all the more impressive by the fantastic instrumentation on this album, which is easily it’s best quality. Sam Bush’s fiddle on “Another Bridge to Burn,” is just pure bluegrass and the electric guitars on “Don’t Come Home from Drinkin’” set the perfect tone for such a classic of country music. The bedrock to all of this is, of course, Mike Bub on the upright bass who holds down every song with an active, leading bass line. This instrumentation, more so than anything else, is what sets Wouldn’t It Be Great apart form other recent releases from older country icons.

   This large band and wide pallet is masterfully helmed by John Carter Cash on production. The only son of Johnny Cash and June Carter, John is quickly becoming one of the best producers in country music with his simple but elegant style. His stereo imaging gives tracks like “Lulie Vars,” or “These ‘Ole Blues,” a very organic feel and he has a good ear for which instruments need to take center stage.

   While the album carries plenty of crooning ballads, it is at its best when its fun. Listen to songs like “Ruby’s Stool,” or my personal favorite, “Ain’t No Time to Go,” which take almost an Irish slant with the loud fiddle, mandolin swells, and excellent banjo work by Larry Perkins. These tracks are best described as foot-tappers, and they’re some of the funnest country songs of the year.

   Lyrically, the album is a bit of a mixed bag. “My Angel Mother,” is a moving and well crafted tribute and “The Big Man,” is a clinic in how to write religious music. On the other hand, “God Makes No Mistakes,” is a good example of how not to write religious music as it comes off as repetitive and answers few of the questions it poses and may be the weakest song in the track list. In addition, “Darkest Days,” one of Lynn’s oldest songs, repurposed for this project, shows it’s age a bit in it’s simple writing and rhyme scheme.

   Many of the tracks on this album are older Loretta Lynn songs which she’s re-recorded for this album, and most of them gain something from the update. If one doesn’t, it would likely be the closer, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” This is, of course, one of the most iconic songs in the country cannon, but nothing is improved by recording it again, especially since it was recorded as recent as 2012 before this.

   On the other end of the album, the opener and title track is easily the highlight of this project. Loretta’s vocal is gentle but powerful, Randy Scruggs’ acoustic guitar lays an excellent bedding, and the lyrics are very well written, dealing with a woman asking her alcoholic husband to “throw the ‘ole glass crutch away.”

   Loretta Lynn is one of the all time greats and her pairing with the John Carter Cash is more than fitting. The vocals are excellent, the instrumental pallet is broad and exciting, and Loretta Lynn commands respect in a way that few artists ever are able to.

   Wouldn’t It Be Great avoids the trappings of sentimentality, for the most part, and instead presents the image of an icon continuing to master her craft.

8/10

HEAR WOULDN’T IT BE GREAT: https://open.spotify.com/album/4Uk33jRr1FKDvYBDy8J3Xr

The Mountain Goats Return to the EP Game with Hex of Infinite Binding

Hex of Infinite Binding is fun, unique, and most importantly, infinitely listenable.

     The Mountain Goats are an folk rock four piece from Claremont, CA. They’re infamous for their sharp wit, quirky lyricism, and ever evolving sound and while they’ve never really found massive commercial success, the group has been able build quite a devoted fanbase which is willing to dive headlong into every wacky sonic and conceptual twist and turn they take. They’ve released 16 full length LP’s, not to mention multiple EP’s, singles, and cassette-only releases over their 27 year career. With all this in mind, and after reading the message written along with this release in which frontman, John Darnielle commits himself once again to what he calls “the general spiritual realm of the EP,” I sat down to take in their newest EP, Hex of Infinite Binding, excited, but with an open mind.

   The project opens with “Song for Ted Sallis,” a simple, Ben Folds-esque tune which is carried by what seems to be a bassoon, played masterfully by Matt Douglas. The lyrics tell the story of Theodore Sallis, an obscure Marvel Comics character perhaps slightly better known as Man-Thing. John Darnielle’s iconic vocal is as geeky and endearing as ever, though it could do with a few harmonies, and the “no skin like the skin you woke up in” refrain is catchy and effective.

   “Almost Every Door,” follows and is, without a doubt, the best track on the EP. The woodwinds on this song, even more so than it’s predecessor, are written and performed expertly. The heartfelt ballad has a distinctly medieval tone, and the dancing piano which adorns the gaps in the string and woodwind leads adds infinite atmosphere to an already unique experience.

   Turning up the tempo a bit and featuring the only true drum kit on the whole project, “Hospital Reaction Shot,” is based on a press conference given by Mickey Deans in 1969, informing the press of the death of his then wife, Judy Garland. While the instrumentation is relatively tame here, Darnielle’s lyrics take center stage with a stark mix of wit and tragic beauty.  Lines like “There’s no kingdom, there’s no road,” and the “Gone down where the Goblins go,” refrain are genuine and moving, and thanks to excellent delivery and a few well placed backing vocals, this is yet another great track.

   We close with “Tucson Frog,” a basic, up-beat tune which is anchored by a driving acoustic guitar and a scarce but present violin. This is a relatively underwhelming finish, though it features a very fun chord progression and quite a bit of passion in the poorly recorded guitar chords. It’s an interesting end to a solid project.

   Of course, this EP is not perfect, as so few are, but I’m interested in what it may represent. If John Darnielle and the rest of The Mountain Goats are serious about returning to the EP spirit, I am more than happy to settle in for a long series of manic, experimental folk-rock collections like this one.

   Hex of Infinite Binding is fun, unique, and most importantly, infinitely listenable.

4/5

HEAR HEX OF INFINITE BINDING: https://open.spotify.com/album/1MbrGdr3eLlzIZs4xW5CIZ

Carrie Underwood Joins Capitol Nashville for Flawed but Fun Sixth Release

With her sixth release, Carrie Underwood reminds us all that through hits and misses, she’s still one of the most talented artists in the stadium country scene.

     Carrie Underwood is one of the most successful women in all of modern country music. She made her name as a contestant and eventual winner of the 2004 season of American Idol. 2004 was a different time in many ways, one of which being that an American Idol winner was able to instantly exemplify the name of the show, and Underwood was no exception.

   Her debut album, Some Hearts went eight times platinum followed by slowly diminishing but consistently impressive numbers on subsequent releases over her now six album run. Singles like “Jesus Take the Wheel,” “Before He Cheats,” “Cowboy Casanova,” and “Undo It,” were all number one hits and quickly established Carrie as a chart topping star, a powerhouse vocalist, and a leader in the stadium country movement which would quickly overtake the genre during her decade-long career. Following a commercially disappointing but critically impressive outing in Storyteller and a surprising move to Capitol Records, Cry Pretty was slotted for a mid-September release, and it’s quite impressive.

   It seems most reasonable to start with the obvious, Underwood’s vocals are exception on this album. The opener and title track is perhaps the best example of this, but this is also quite apparent on tracks like “Low,” and “Spinning Bottles.” Many fans come to a Carrie Underwood project specifically to hear excellent vocal work, and those fans will not be disappointed here. Her control and confidence on simpler and sweeter passages grants all the more power to her belting voice through dynamics.

   Also lending to the dynamic range of this album is the instrumental work. Cry Pretty was recorded with Capitol Nashville and Underwood is one of their most bankable stars, which means that she was likely given an extensive budget, and it shows in the instrumentation more so than anywhere else. The steel and electric guitars in “Ghosts on the Stereo,” make it my favorite track on the record, and the vintage guitar on “Southbound,” fits the track well. Even the piano on “Spinning Bottles,” is simple and effective. Every track is packed with any instrument that could add anything, a few only popping up for a few moments, well mixed and played. This is the water mark of a decent budget.

   On the flip side of the same coin, the album is entirely too reliant on synth/steel guitar mix which has begun to pervade all radio country. Intimate songs like “The Bullet,” are poisoned by this, but it’s especially irritating on upbeat moments like “End Up With You,” “Backsliding,” and the chunkily named “That Song That We Used To Make Love To.” Compared to the successful, organic tracks that fill the bulk of this project, these songs feel fake and overproduced.

   However, the weakest aspect of this album, by far, is the lyrics. This very likely isn’t Underwood’s fault, and it’s relatively inoffensive on the less meaningful tracks, but there are a few attempts at heartfelt messaging which border on unlistenable. Namely, “The Bullet,” and “Love Wins.”

   The former tells the story of a young man killed by gun violence and the subsequent inability of his family to cope with his loss. Carefully tap dancing away from anything resembling political messaging, Carrie instead resorts to sad, single lined truisms and cliche’s. The lyrics are so general and hollow that any attempt to connect with an audience simply falls flat and it feels, instead like a heartless, broad stroke form of storytelling.

   The latter focusses, again, on a hot button political issue of the day, this time the devision which is beginning to worsen in the US, and again Carrie refuses to make any bold, concrete statements. I, of course, don’t look to Carrie Underwood for complex, sociopolitical commentary, but when she touches on these topics while refusing to say anything meaningful, it feels like she’s cashing in on hot topics without saying anything. “Love Wins,” was the lead single from Cry Pretty and I fear it may have turned off many otherwise serious listeners to what was, overall, and enjoyable experience.

   Cry Pretty doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and I don’t think anyone expected it to. In many ways, it follows the classic build of an album from a radio-heavy artist: a few big singles carrying a long list of tracks which try to sound a lot like those singles. This is what we get from Kelly Clarkson, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, and basically any other artist who finds their primary success on country radio, but in this case, Underwood very obviously cares about anything she puts her name on, and therefore gives her all, even to tracks which will only be heard by dedicated fans.

   With her sixth release, Carrie Underwood reminds us all that through hits and misses, she’s still one of the most talented artists in the stadium country scene.

5/10

HEAR CRY PRETTY: https://open.spotify.com/album/6LURWtPusB5fGenqj0lbFd