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

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The Wait is Over, Carter V is Finally Here, and it’s Excellent

Lil Wayne is an undeniable legend of rap music, and Tha Carter V shows us all exactly why.

     Lil’ Wayne is, undeniably, a legend in the hip-hop world. He debuted in 1996 with a group called Hot Boys on their debut album Get It How U Live! At fifteen, Wayne was the youngest member of the group and went on to easily the most successful solo career out of the five members. He released his first solo project in 1999 with Tha Block is Hot, which went platinum.

   This album series, however, began with the first Carter album in 2004 and was last updated by 2011’s Tha Carter IV. Today, The Carter series is one of the most critically and commercially successful album series of all time and after a seven year break due to legal troubles, Wayne is ready to return to The Carter this time with the added challenge of making the record feel current and new after a long hiatus from a genre which evolves at a breakneck pace. Luckily for all of us, he does this well.

   The first and most obvious notable quality of Carter V is the runtime. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, this record is able to explore every idea fully, and a few times to an exhaustive extent. This can, at first make the album feel a bit daunting, but it isn’t nearly as dense as length may suggest, and the bulk of of these tracks are hits rather than misses.

   Perhaps the most interesting piece of this album is the production which, though handled by several different producers, strikes a surprisingly similar tone throughout. Tracks like “Can’t Be Broken,” “Open Safe,” “Famous,” and “Took His Time,” benefit from instrumentals which are very dated in the best possible way. They’re very reminiscent of Wayne’s work in his prime, around the mid-2000’s, during the early years of trap music and this is the first time that this sound has been done well in many years.

   On other occasions, the album’s sound is very current. Tracks like “Demon,” and “Dope New Gospel,” sport a very interesting neo-soul vibe which is done very well with excellent vocal work from Nivea on the latter. Wayne’s classic sung/rap flow fits well on these tracks as he lyrically dances over these beats with a skill that only comes from experience.

   In addition to all this, the soundbites which Wayne and his team chose for this album are fantastic. From the message from Wayne’s mother on the “I Love You Dwayne,” intro to her subsequent appearances on “Used 2,” and “Let It All Work Out,” which close out the project, each of these clips are extremely moving and bring weight to the album’s subject matter. On top of these, Barrack Obama makes a hilarious appearance on “Dedicate,” and Katie Couric drops by on “Hittas,” to remind us all that “Lil’ Wayne answers to no-one.”

   The features list here sports a few surprising names and interesting omissions. Thankfully, Drake doesn’t make an appearance, save for one line. Nicki Minaj, however, does feature on the rather underwhelming “Dark Side of the Moon,” with her best verse in several years. Similarly, Travis Scott gives an uncharacteristically solid performance on “Let it Fly.” The late XXXTentacion’s hook on “Don’t Cry,” is eiry and Snoop Dogg gives a fun closing verse on “Dope N***az.”

   The best feature, however, and the best track on the album as a whole is Kendrick Lamar on “Mona Lisa,” which just may be one of the best rap tracks of the year. In it, Wayne and Kendrick tell a grimy story of set ups, robbery, and theft with fantastic flow and storytelling abilities that really draws the parallel between two artists who have long been at the top of their game.

   The most impressive and exciting aspect of all of this is, without a doubt, Wayne’s flow. Listen to tracks like “Uproar,” “Open Letter,” “Problems,” or the very close contender for the title of best track on the album, “Start This Shit Off Right,” for the most shining examples of this, but Wayne’s flow is excellent on nearly every song. He often hangs on to a single rhyme for long periods of time, dropping non-stop bars along the way without missing a beat. His lyricism has improved, and he rarely relies on punchlines as he once did, but his iconic, hard-hitting flow is here in spades.

   All of this being said, I do have a few complaints. The worst track on this album, by far, is “Mess,” though other songs like “What About Me,” and “Perfect Strangers,” suffer from a similar issue: boring R&B beats that severely limit Wayne’s flow and offer nothing of substance to make up for this. This is the album’s worst offense, though several of the outros are far too long and the entire runtime could benefit quite a bit from shaving off 20-30 unjustified minutes.

   All of this being said, Tha Carter V is nothing short of excellent. After the nearly five year wait, we finally have brand new tracks from Lil Wayne with a full budget and original beats and it is well worth the wait. Rap music is often measured in eras, and the Wheezy era ended a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean that the man can’t still release fantastic music.

   Lil Wayne is an undeniable legend of rap music, and Tha Carter V shows us all exactly why.

8/10

HEAR THA CARTER V: https://open.spotify.com/album/50yFYgKdwJANZ5O9MIbMkg

BROCKHAMPTON Kicks Off 2018 Trilogy With Flawed but Passionate LP

There are a few weak links and a few underdeveloped elements, but the sheer scope combined with the energy and passion which radiates from every performance makes this album and this group one of the best in modern Hip-hop, bare none.

     BROCKHAMPTON is a rap/hip-hop group from San Marcos, Texas. They’ve called themselves “the best boyband since One Direction,” and their meteoric rise to superstardom is quite reminiscent of the career trajectories of groups like these. The group debuted last year with Saturation I, II, and III, each of which were met with widespread critical praise and love from young hip-hop fans everywhere.

   The large lineup of members, each of whom share vocal duties across the discography, gives the group a fantastically eclectic sound as well as a kind of irresistible, manic energy. Many tracks rest comfortably on the verge of chaos, both rhythmically and due to the constantly shifting flows. Borrowing from the growing movement of experimental and minimalistic hip-hop which is looming in the underground world, BROCKHAMPTON adapts a very unique and often complex style to make it more accessible to general listeners without losing it’s key qualities. Because of this, I was excited to hear Iridescence, which would be the fourth entry to the groups discography, and it certainly was not a let down.

   The most noticeable aspect of this project, upon first listen, is excellent production. Each instrument has a depth and weight to it in the mix and the stereo image is inventive and exciting. Furthermore, the vocal effects used on tracks like “DISTRICT,” add yet another layer to the already rich soundscape.

   This, in turn, means that the album is extremely well paced. Song length varies greatly, with one of my favorite tracks, “Loophole,” being less than a minute long excerpt from an interview, and “Thug Life,” makes the most of it’s two minute run time. Others, like the excellent opener, “New Orleans,” have runtimes which exceed four minutes, carrying all of it well.

   The aforementioned sonic diversity also means that Iridescence is packed to the brim with verses which highlight great flows from each member. Joba’s verse on “Tape,” for example is one of the best verses of the year and Matt Champion’s follow up is all but equal in quality. And, of course, Kevin Abstract’s work on “Weight,” is incredible, and adds to the tracks status as my favorite moment on the album. All this without mentioning the jarring and brutal style employed by Merlyn Wood on “Where the Cash At.”

   Beyond diversity in flow, the production on this album is completely unpredictable in terms of instrumentals. Tracks like “J’ourvert,” accomplish this by switching beats and styles constantly, while “Honey,” or “San Marcos,” constantly introduce new and unique instruments.

   This brings us to yet another interesting quality to Iridescence: it’s extremely broad instrumentation pallet. “Tonya’s” moving piano is surprising in the best way possible while the strange organ on the closer, “Fabric,” is quite intriguing even after it’s initial introduction because of it’s enigmatic tone.

   If there are a few week points, they come in the form of the groups simpler, more emotional tracks. While this works well on tracks like “Weight,” it can also fall flat, as it does on “Fabric,” often sabotaged by the strange flows and production which surround the lyricism, which is also not always perfect.

   Brockhampton is at their best, however, when the bass is heavy and the flows are brutal. “Brazil,” for example, is one of the most charismatic hip-hop tracks in recent memory, and “District,” seems only to improve with repeated visits. It’s here, with each element of the group operating at full speed and putting in maximum effort, that BROCKHAMPTON sounds genuinely special. Iridescence may not be for everyone, it certainly isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t quite have the listenability value of other BROCKHAMPTON projects, and yet there is something quite great about it.

   There are a few weak links and a few underdeveloped elements, but the sheer scope combined with the energy and passion which radiates from every performance makes this album and this group one of the best in modern hip-hop, bare none.

6/10

HEAR IRIDESCENCE: https://open.spotify.com/album/3Mj4A4nNJzIdxOyS4yzOhj

Danielle Bregoli of “Cash Me Outside” Fame Drops Debut LP Under Bhad Bhabie Moniker

Bhad Bhabie was sanitized, used to push records and provide a platform for other rappers to feature on, and was only let loose once to create one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard.

     Bhad Bhabie, AKA Danielle Bregoli is far better known as the star of the infamous “cash me outside” meme, which arose from her bizarre appearance on Dr. Phil. After short lived meme fame, however, she began to find success in the rap world, first as the center of a Kodak Black video before signing to Atlantic Records and releasing “Gucci Flip Flops,” the lead single from her debut record, which featured Lil Yachty.

   Her sound is almost exactly what one would expect form a fifteen year old girl obsessed with trap and mumble rap. Her flow is odd and somewhat unnatural, though it can also be fairly described as aggressive. Regardless, this album has a fascinating amount of money behind it, a reasonably star studded feature list, and an x-factor which comes from Bhad Bhabie’s internet fame, so let’s take a deeper look at 15.

   The first and most shocking realization that comes with this project is the competence with which it was executed. Tracks like “Geek’d” and “No More Love,” for example, sport beats which one could tentatively describe as slightly interesting. None of the beats are impressive, but more importantly, never once is this album so bad, from a technical standpoint, that it’s unlistenable. The performances, however, are more of a mixed bag.

   The features list on 15 is impressive for a debut project, but unfortunately, this doesn’t translate to a collection of solid verses. YG’s verse on “Juice,” is a good way to start the album, though he does outshine Bregoli quite noticeably. Ty Dolla $ign, as well, turns in a few respectable bars on “Trust Me,” again, outshining the track’s main artist. After this, however, the quality drops off steeply.

   Asian Doll’s work on “Affiliated,” is one of the most grating sounds I’ve ever heard, and aids this song in gaining recognition as a low point in the runtime, for which it faced stiff competition. City Girls’ work on “Yung and Bhad” is the most brutally flavorless section of the mercifully short song. The worst feature, however, not only lands on what I would tentatively call my favorite track, “Gucci Flip Flops,” but goes to a man who takes this title virtually every time he appears on a record, Lil Yachty. Incredibly, he’s the only person on this album who seems unable to outshine Bregoli, and instead sleep-talks his way through a short 8 bars with lyrics that range from wholly meaningless to just plain unrelated to the track in any way. We, of course, still have yet to discuss the vocals of Bhad Bhabie herself.

   It’s terrible. When she raps, like on “Count It,” or “Bout That,” she seems to be barely speaking English through the single least intimidating aggressive flow in hip-hop history. She also experiments with an auto crooning style of singing that seems to be influenced by the Illinois drill scene. When she does this on “No More Love,” for example, I somehow find myself wishing she’d just go back to rapping, as her singing voice is completely soulless and adds nothing to the track. Nearly every flow she uses can be very easily traced to the popular artist from whom she stole it, with The Migos’ triplet style being the most notable and prevalent.

   The lyrics are actually not horrible, though they were, as with the beats, surely handled by her label rather than Bregoli herself. The self titled intro or the lead single, “Hi Bich,” for example, are fairly well written, though any slightly interesting lyrics are lost in the weak delivery.

   The bulk of this album is inoffensive, somewhat competent, and overall, just average, bad trap music with a worse than usual lead artist. This all goes out the window, however, when it comes the worst song, not only on this album, but of this year, “Bhad Bhabie Story.” This song shouldn’t exist. This song can barely be called a song, and furthermore, I cannot fathom the existence of a person in the civilized world who could listen to “Bhad Bhabie Story,” and genuinely enjoy the experience. Over an abusive runtime of more than six minutes, Danielle Bregoli details the story of her rise from troubled tween to infamous meme to hip-hop superstardom. She does this through mostly spoken word, only rapping for the first minute or so, without breaking for a single chorus, hook, or any other form of respite from this onslaught of Bhabie’s faux-ghetto accent and brutally irritating storytelling. It’s an existentially horrific experience, and I don’t recommend it for the faint of heart.

   As a finished product, 15 is disappointingly predictable in every way. Very seldom is there an example so obvious of a large company, in this case Atlantic Records, attempting to capitalize on an aspect of youth culture which they don’t understand in the slightest. I would’ve actually enjoyed the record’s 40 or so minutes a bit more if Bregoli had been simply sent into a studio with full reign to create her own bizarre, meme-worthy, artistic vision. We could’ve got an album version of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.

   Instead, Bhad Bhabie was sanitized, used to push records and provide a platform for other rappers to feature on, and was only let loose once to create one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard.

2/10