Album Review: Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed

In her recent New York Times interview Kacey Musgraves joked that she ‘wasn’t going to be a real country artist without at least one divorce under my belt’. That’s the kind of self deprecating, knowing humour which she sprinkled through her first three albums, culminating in her triumphant success at the Grammys in 2019.

Golden Hour was strikingly original, hugely influential and every single song on that album could have been a radio hit. The fact the Grammys understood its power more than country radio tells you why she had to leave that genre behind. Mainstream country is a lost cause, more so now than ever – it’s become such a difficult place for most progressive female artists I’m just glad that some of them get out of there alive. Take country with you but dear god don’t look back.

star-crossed works best when listened to as a whole and indeed as a sequel – a splintering to what came before. Despite the light modern production this album strangely feels less commercial, with fewer big hooks and melodies. After the Golden Hour faded Kacey sounds like she got high and disappeared into the clouds. Blur the pain away. Continue reading “Album Review: Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed”

Album Review: Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over the Country Club

After releasing her prescient, apocalyptic masterpiece Norman Fucking Rockwell! Lana Del Rey received a torrent of critical acclaim for the album and critical attacks for her social media posts. Such is the circle game of the internet. Lana preempted the potential reaction to her follow up album by announcing that she felt sorry for it in advance, knowing it could never match up to its older sibling. In the end she shouldn’t have worried. Chemtrails Over the Country Club is cool, confident and content in its own skin. Continue reading “Album Review: Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over the Country Club”

Album Review: Lindsay Ell – Heart Theory

In summer I always crave a big sugary country pop album – one that has ambition, blends contemporary sounds with quality songwriting and real personality. Last year Maren’s ‘Girl’ did the trick and this summer that album is ‘Heart Theory’ by Lindsay Ell. I’ve always admired Lindsay as a rare mainstream artist in the country genre who is known equally for her guitar playing as her vocals. It really depresses me to see women putting their instruments aside to appeal to the mainstream charts. So I am happy to report that this new album ‘Heart Theory’ sounds a million times better than most big Nashville pop releases because of Ell’s fantastic guitar riffs. Continue reading “Album Review: Lindsay Ell – Heart Theory”

Album Review: The Chicks – Gaslighter

In their classic hit ‘Goodbye Earl’ the Chicks sang gleefully about murdering an abusive husband, whose violent actions meant there was no other option: he simply ‘had to die’. The song was pure revenge fantasy where two women take back the power and their happy ending is a world of friendship, peace, joy and freedom.

Unfortunately in the real world most of us have to find a way to live alongside those men – husbands, fathers, bosses, heroes etc – who violate and hurt us in varying extremes. We can’t cancel their existence with a shovel and a smile, even if we sing along to the song like we might want to. However that doesn’t mean we can’t fight and scream in protest at the injustice women face daily. When even getting a simple divorce can be a torturous and traumatic experience you have to conclude that something is wrong with the system itself.

Natalie Maines knows this all too well and uses Gaslighter, the first album from the band in fourteen years to reckon with her private pain and the collective struggle of her bandmates and women everywhere to survive this cruel world the patriarchy has built. Continue reading “Album Review: The Chicks – Gaslighter”

Dolly Parton’s Discography – Rainbow (1987)

Rainbow was the first of Dolly’s albums for her new record label Columbia, after her nearly two decade long relationship with RCA ended. When signing with CBS she reportedly envisioned rotating the style of her albums, with one pure pop followed by one pure country. The problem with that plan was exposed almost immediately. Rainbow was Dolly’s lowest charting album for nearly fifteen years and the Trio album with Emmylou and Linda (also released this year) was her most successful in a decade. The public had spoken: they wanted Dolly back singing country music. At age 41 her pop dream was dead. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography – Rainbow (1987)”

Dolly Parton’s Discography – Real Love (1985)

“I’m commericalminded. If I can’t get my own hit, I’m not too proud to hang on somebody else’s coattails,’ said Dolly in a revealing interview she conducted in the mid-90s. Therefore working with platinum king Kenny Rogers, who she called ‘a magical man’ was a no-brainer. Together they would have a pop smash with Islands in the Stream, a successful Christmas album released in 1984, and a country chart topper with the title track of this 1985 album. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography – Real Love (1985)”

Dolly Parton’s Discography – The Great Pretender (1984)

The appeal of Dolly Parton’s image has always been in how the ‘false’ make-up, wigs, gaudy outfits and cosmetic enhancements contrast with her country roots and the vulnerable truths in her music. ‘The Great Pretender’ is what she set out to be as a poor kid playing dress up, writing songs and hoping to become a star. By 1984 she’d successfully created her legendary persona and was a household name. Her musical output in the eighties was wildly inconsistent at best, with dwindling returns from the heady heights of 9 to 5. This album would prove to be a low of her recording career, filled with forgettable cover versions of songs from the fifties and sixties that offered little of what had got her here in the first place. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography – The Great Pretender (1984)”

Dolly Parton’s Discography: Burlap and Satin (1983)

1983 was a year that brought Dolly more crossover chart success thanks to her duet Islands in the Stream with Kenny Rogers. Her 25th solo album released in the same year, Burlap and Satin, in comparison did not contain any real classic or memorable hit songs. The title is an acknowledgement that there will always be two contrasting aspects to her music – and how best to balance pop and country is something she is obviously still struggling to reconcile at this point. This album reached number 5 in the country charts, a disappointment for her, although it did result in a Grammy nomination. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography: Burlap and Satin (1983)”

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