Upon its release back in January, my new online buddy Blake used this very website to more or less pan — or, at the very least, damn with imperceptibly faint praise — Lady Antebellum’s white hot sophomore album Need You Now, daring to call itOne Tree Hill with fiddles” and sending that phrase flying like an epithetical slap across Sherry Ann’s beautiful face.  (Lest you lose the thread here, Sherry Ann is the free world’s most passionate devotee of that angst-riddled assortment of Tree Hill confidantes and clotheshorses.)  He swore a number of times that he didn’t necessarily mean his phrase to disparage or belittle, even though Sherry Ann and I both took it exactly that way, and I repeatedly invited her to tear Blake’s flip, slightly sullen sarcasm to shreds — as only she can, trust me — right cheer on the Buzz.  She repeatedly declined each request, but having spent a good measure of time with this quite fine record over the past few months, I feel both compelled and qualified to weigh in with my own two cents.


Blake’s primary gripe, if I read his commentary correctly (and if I didn’t, I’ve no doubt that he’ll rip me to shreds in this post’s comments), is that the boys and girl who comprise Lady A just don’t seem to be having a hell of a lot of fun on this second record, particularly when played off against their dazzling debut, which by and large was a yuk-yuk-a-minute yee-haw hoedown.  What Blake fails to acknowledge is that first records in Nashville almost uniformly have to be crafted this way, in order to get a solid foot in the door at country radio.  (Witness current “it” boys Zac Brown Band, Rascal Flatts, or even the format’s last great barrier-busting breakthrough band — those magnificent mavericks Sugarland, whose debut album, 2004’s pleasant piffle Twice the Speed of Life, was full of fun and fiddles, most of it benign and lightweight and all of it powered toward excellence by the sheer unmistakable power and irrevocable likability of Jennifer Nettles’ stardust-kissed voice — if you doubt that to be the case.)


It should be said immediately that Need You Now isn’t, by half, a great album, but that it is a dramatic step forward from Lady A’s middling, mostly-stuck-in-second debut, which found flashes of brilliance (the gorgeously graceful “I Run to You,” chief among them) flickering amongst the awkward floundering of a band desperately in search of its own voice, a voice which you’ll likely come away from Need wholly convinced that this band has still yet to find, precisely because — and this is why I remain so amused by Blake’s comments, even months after the fact — it is in its so-called “fun” songs — many of which feel like cheap concessions to the consumer (something like, “Hey, we’ll toss off hokey, trite trash like ‘Stars Tonight’ if that means you’ll sit still for the wrenching, raw emotion of ‘When You Got a Good Thing’ when you buy a ticket for one of our shows!”; the band’s male lead, Charles Kelley, essentially admitted as much in an interview with Billboard just prior to the album’s release) — that this album takes most of its wrong turns.


Listening to Need straight through, particularly past the fourth or fifth time, can be thoroughly maddening, because it begins to feel as though producer Paul Worley became so terrified of the dynamic, riveting record he saw taking shape that he took excruciating pains to muddy it up with an equal amount of mindless, frothy fluff.  (Indeed, scan the tracklist song by song, and you quickly recognize that each time the album nails one of its chillingly compelling crescendos, the moment is immediately supplanted by a stunningly stupid mood-killer of a tune whose sole purpose for existing is almost certainly so that all those summer concert-goers will have material with which to numbly clap along.)  And instead of having the faith to insist that this band has the all-around chops to craft an album of true heart-rending density and depth, Worley (or the record company, or the myopic gatekeepers of that walled fortress known as Nashville) settled for a schizophrenic record that tries hungrily and hopelessly to be everything at once and, for that, suffers mightily in the end.


Sharing this could well make me sound like a staggering idiot, but my instant reaction to Blake’s words back in January was, “Well, you wouldn’t have told Fleetwood Mac to lighten up thirty years ago.”  And while I would never deign to compare this fumbling bunch of foals with that quicksilver quartet of rock legends — though I will say, however meekly this defense may be, that if you don’t hear even the slightest hint of that push-pull tension which Lindsay and Stevie positively perfected echoing throughout the chorus of Need’s boffo title track, you’re fooling yourself, kid — the analogy may not be entirely invalid, especially when you consider that, coming as it did from the particular incarnation of Fleetwood Mac which the world continues to regard as the definitive one of same, an inviolable touchstone called Rumuors was also a sophomore album, one with ionospheric commercial and creative expectations also — fairly or not — placed upon it.  Devil’s in the details, always:  Rumuors was a singularly focused and spectacular album that also happened to be a major hit.  And Need You Now is a slick, soupy smash hit album that chose to trade magnificent majesty for mass-market viability.


That said, the album contains no fewer than five tracks which I would count among the year’s best heretofore, and now that oh-ten is fast approaching its midpoint, what better reason to expound on one of those five tunes, along with a handful of the rest of my favorite tunes from a year that is (shockingly!) half over.


1.  “Hello World”Lady Antebellum (from Need You Now) — Hello —  when these guys came through Austin in mid-March to play the rodeo, I was one of perhaps half-a-dozen folks who was able to sneak in and catch a bit of the soundcheck, and I watched the remarkable Charles Kelley — so astonishing here, living and breathing the story of a shattered man who has lost his wife and children and who finds in the small things (chocolate on a child’s face, a cross in a churchyard) fleeting wisps of solace and salvation — wail this at full blast inside an absolutely empty arena.  Even before that, “World” was far and away my favorite track from Need You Now, but having since etched the aforementioned moment into my memory, I have serious doubts that we’ll see a more seamless match between singer and song for the remainder of this year.  Or this century.  Simply staggering.

2.  “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart”Alicia Keys
(from The Element of Freedom) — Try —  disappointingly, it sort of peters out in the final minute or so (and, like me, weren’t you hoping that the radio edit would correct that so that I wouldn’t have to make my own?), but the three or so minutes that precede said flat finale are simply extraordinary.  With percussion engineer Pat Reynolds’ moody, dramatic snare drum played off brilliantly against Keys’ gentle but firm piano chops and her uncanny ear for a beautifully left-of-center melody and song construction, don’t be surprised to learn that, bar none, this is my favorite single of the year to date.

3.  “Million Dollar Bill [Freemasons Mixshow]”
Whitney Houston (from Million Dollar Bill [The Mixes]) — Million —  take an already-fabulous song, lay it atop one of the most famous bass lines in the history of pop music — that of Kool and the Gang’s iconic party tune “Celebration” — and watch those fireworks fly.  From a career that was already rife with some of the most vivid, viciously brilliant remixes of our time, this could well tower above them all.

4.  “Better Than Her” Matisse (from Better Than Her) — Better —  I understand that, as a proudly gay man, there should reasonably exist nothing for me to latch onto in this tune’s four minutes of fluff and fun.  But laying aside such silly things as sex and with whom or what you prefer to share yours:  if you’ve ever wanted to look someone dead in the eye and roar, “That goofy bitch ain’t got a good gulp o’ nothin’ on me, honey, and don’t get it twisted,” then this right here is your jam.  If this thing isn’t inescapable by Independence Day, I swear to Jesus I’ll eat my computer.  (My favorite part comes just after the three-minute mark, when Miss Matisse brings the action to a dead halt for the simple purpose of reminding the ferocious fop at whom she is aiming all of this vitriolically bold braggadocio, “I’m still better than her!”  Pshaw, as if there could be any doubt!)

5.  “Just Say Yes” Snow Patrol (from Up to Now) — Just —  temporarily trading their bombastic, typically anthemic style for something a bit more solemn and sincere, Gary Lightbody and crew dial up a simple stunner.  (For a radically different, yet still quite satisfying, take on this tune, do yourself a favor and track down the Thin White Duke Mix, which only seems to be available on the European import CD single as of this writing.)

6.  “Red”Daniel Merriweather (from Love and War) — Red —  stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before:  kid with a powerful, preternaturally soulful voice — one of same that is wise lifetimes beyond its years — teams up with a hotshot producer and turns the music world on its left ear by churning out the very same product that world should have been making all along.  Mark Ronson gave Merriweather his big break three years ago with a high-profile guest spot on his all-star mixtape-slash-coming-out-party, and now Merriweather is ready to claim his own moment in the sun, with a largely terrific debut album and, with this powerful tale of love gone hopelessly sour, a fiercely fine leadoff single.

7.  “Parachute” Train (from Save Me, San Francisco) — Parachute —  they’ve just landed their biggest hit ever with the jangly, innocuous jingle “Hey, Soul Sister,” a tune I’ve never been that crazy about, irregardless of how vociferously I sing along whenever it pops up in a shuffle.  I’ve not yet heard what’s on tap as the second single from the ridiculously fun Save Me, San Francisco, their sterling and spectacular latest album — and, to be sure, this band, as great as they absolutely are, have a horrendous history of picking follow-up tracks to send to radio (which reinforces the validity and value of my assertion that I really should be allowed to run everything for a week or two) — but I sincerely hope that they’ll take a leap of faith with this song, SF’s churning, compelling emotional core.

8.  “I Love”The Avett Brothers (from Sweetheart 2010) — I —  and now, one from the even a blind pig category:  I’m man enough to admit that, as hard as I have tried and tried to like them, the homespun hokum that pulses through the vast majority of these guys’ tuneless music goes flying right past me.  But this sweet, endearingly off-key cover of an old Tom T. Hall crunchy chestnut, recorded for Starbucks’ annual Valentine’s Day disc, hits the bullseye with marksman-like precision.  Go figure, that.

9.  “According to You” Orianthi (from Believe (II)) — According —  last November, I wrote the following in a record store report right here on the Buzz:  Don’t be surprised if the biggest winner to emerge from Michael Jackson’s stunning film This Is It ends up being [his would-be guitarist] Orianthi… the buzz on her is headed toward deafening. Fast forward seven months, and looky here:  her feisty first single — an obvious warning shot over the heads of Katy and Avril, who clearly have that pissed-off chick lane all to themselves no longer — is a bona fide smash, and those mind-blowing guitar licks are already legendary.  Gal’s got some serious skills.

10.  “Waiting for My Child”Patty Griffin
(from Downtown Church) — Waiting —  if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably a bit like me, if only peripherally.  And if you’re like me, even if only peripherally, then gospel is hardly your go-to choice in music-based entertainment.  But I swear you ain’t never heard gospel like this:  the peerless Griffin, whose shattering voice is a religious experience in and of itself, reaches down all the way down to her toenails and yanks out a gently gut-wrenching take on this spiritual staple that dares to plumb the bottomless depths of a mother’s love.

11.  “New Morning”Alpha Rev (from New Morning) — New —  this one must be an acquired taste, because A continues to openly detest it whenever I trot it out on any given car ride, and he’s generally pretty easy to bring around to reason when it comes to matters of music.  (To wit:  despite some heavy initial resistance, I’ve even caught him singing the flypaper-sticky refrain of “Better Than Her” under his breath when he thought I wasn’t listening.)  But I think this band’s breakout tune is beyond brilliant:  tackling the riveting themes of redemption and rebirth, the magnificent Casey McPherson emerges from a cacophony of chaos and creation clutching a battleflag and belting an anthem of serenity and solitude.

12.  “Kandi”One Eskimo (featuring Candi Staton)
(from One Eskimo) — Kandi —  if you’re searching for a sleeper surprise this season, may I suggest that the search is officially finished.  The tune’s storyline — boy loves girl, boy learns girl has found another boy — is ages old; its guitar riff is plain and painfully precious, and its simple shift of percussion is strictly Pro Tooled.  But Kristian Leontiou aims straight for the jugular regardless, and does so using his strongest asset:  his gritty, gruff, great voice.  Constructed flawlessly around a crisp, captivating sample of Candi Staton’s “He Called Me Baby,” this riveting record — easily the best of its kind since Primitive Radio Gods’ 1996 pop landmark “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand,” which cribbed a verse or two from the legendary B.B. King — pivots on the crackling, desperately carnal chemistry that Leontiou is obliged to create with Staton in the relation of a tale that could be trite in the hands of lesser talents, but instead becomes transfixing — becomes, indeed, vaguely operatic — in these.

13.  “Dying Day”Gin Wigmore (from Holy Smoke) — Dying —  blend together a dash of Duffy, a pinch of Pink, and a long, lingering bite of Blossom Dearie, and what do you get?  You get this astonishing Australian import whose sterling stateside debut, Universal Motown’s Holy Smoke, is slowly starting to generate a torrent of talk in industry circles, and with damn fine reason:  featuring pristine production from Mike Elizondo (the man who helped hoist Fiona Apple to pop stardom a generation ago) and tight breezy work by Ryan Adams’ backing band The Cardinals, Smoke for sure gets in your eyes, particularly with its triumphantly transcendent last laugh, a haunting, highly moving clarion call to carpe the living hell out of urry last one of your diems.


11 responses to “gettin’ kinda rich on the side of any soul
(or: six months down, pass it around)”

  1. the buzz from Blake Boldt:


    I suppose I should take cold comfort in the fact that you devoted so much energy to one of my opinions, yes?

  2. the buzz from Blake Boldt:

    First of all, it was “One Tree Hill with twang,” shank you very much.

    Second of all, I’m sure I would love Sherry Ann in person, so I’ve shed a few tears knowing she’s been tossing darts at my picture for much of the calendar year. Darling, I will send you a muffin basket if it means we can be friends.

    Third of all, as I mentioned in the original thread, “One Tree Hill” is an entertaining, engrossing television program. I’m not a huge devotee, but I certainly don’t think it’s a trashy project by any means and I have spent a good deal of time with it in my life.


    That is an interesting comparison with Fleetwood Mac. The difference—-the missing link really—-is the presence of conflict. Forget twin fiddles or pickup trucks or Bud Light, country music, to me, is about conflict. Though Lady A is certainly as mainstream as that idiom gets, they still work within the format. Why I lose interest in most of their weightier material is because I don’t feel the drama is fully earned.

    As a music consumer, I can’t separate the recorded music from the circumstances surrounding it, especially when it comes to country music. I gravitate towards singers and songwriters who have a richer story to tell. [Even in the usually-fun world of pop music, I’m drawn to someone like Kelly or Rihanna as opposed to other starlets because I’m invested in what they have to say as people and as artists.]

    I think Lady A, at this point in their careers, would be better off by honing their skills on lighter material that showcases their neat melodies and joie de vivre. The goal should be to tighten up those songs so they’re not so frilly and frothy all the time. I agree there are a couple really banal, cutesy cuts on this album.

    “Need You Now,” the monster smash single, was a perfect storm that comes along once in a blue moon. But at least that song was insistent and urgent, where many of their other moodier tracks just seem sullen (Don’t you dare think you’re the first to use “Blake” and “sullen” and “sarcasm” in the same sentence, buddy boy.) and unearned.

    Essentially, I just don’t feel as much attachment to the problems that Lady A attempts to present in their more-serious material for the most part. I have the same issues with Carrie Underwood, who has, at times, come across as inauthentic when building tension, both lyrically and vocally, with little justification. [Sometimes that mountain you’ve been climbing is indeed just a grain of sand.] I just have to disagree that they’re capable of pulling off the density and depth that you’re cheering for.

    To hopefully bring the point home, that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy and appreciate the material of Carrie, Lady A and the like. And that also doesn’t mean that I can’t cheer “One Tree Hill” even though some of the problems they faced seemed overly-thought-out and overdramatized. That’s what made the show so captivating—it drew a passionate reaction, right? It kept you invested and energized in the plot and the performances.

    On another note, your playlist is awesome. I know we disagree —-again 🙁 —- about Alicia Keys, but I think she’s only shown flashes of her true potential as opposed to a few years ago. “No One” and “Try Sleeping” (It sure crashed quickly on the charts, but what a record!) are two of the best singles in a long time, not to mention her fantastic vocal on “Empire,” but she’s done quite a few bum tracks lately, too.

    Lastly, now that CMA Fest is over, I could be thinking about vacation plans, but I’m afraid I may have to avoid Austin now. 🙁 Say it ain’t so!

  3. the buzz from mototehnika:

    Thank you for your mighty fine work. You are our beacon of light in this long dark tunnel of chaos.

  4. the buzz from brandon:

    I must tell you, Blake: even when I thoroughly and completely disagree with you — which, quite honestly, is often — you give me much to chew on. More in a bit.

    As for Alicia Keys, I’m not entirely sure we disagree on her at all. I’ve never been all that crazy about her, and thought her much-ballyhooed debut was a pretentious load of over-produced hogwash. But she has gotten better and better with each album, and her latest one, The Element of Freedom, is among my favorites for the year. (“Wait ’til You See My Smile” and “That’s How Strong My Love Is” are two killer tracks, and I’ve made it perfectly clear how I feel about “Broken Heart,” its chart performance be damned.)

  5. the buzz from Blake Boldt:

    When else have we strongly disagreed? I usually remember my arguments with others quite well. 😉

  6. the buzz from brandon:

    Uh, your admirably impassioned atttempt to defend those woeful Dixie Chicks, which, I’m sorry, was laughably ludicrous. And this whole Lady A thing, which we’re gonna prove you wrong about in due time, I’ve urry confidence. 🙂

  7. the buzz from Blake Boldt:

    Oh, I just figured that my intelligent endorsement of the Dixie Chicks, while also admitting their past mistakes in the public eye, was just so captivating that you couldn’t respond to it. You’re not going to change my mind about Lady A either, but I’d like to see you try. To me, they’re a nice-sounding, nice-looking group who go for too much bloated emotion (The title track being a brilliant exception.) Sorry, B. You’re wrong! Maybe we should stick to discussing topics other than country music groups, eh? 🙂

  8. the buzz from A.:

    “Better Than Her” by Matisse and “According to You” by Orianthi

    Say “Matisse,” and most people think of the early 20th century French artist Henri Matisse. In BrandonLand, however, that honor goes to another Matisse and her awfully repetitive and generally meaningless song “Better Than Her.” The first question that popped into my head was not about the song, but about the name: why Matisse, why not Cezanne or Degas or Gauguin? I wonder what they would sound like. (Perhaps the Buzz has an answer for that last one.)

    Along the same lines we have Orianthi and “According to You.” While the lyrics are at least slightly more meaningful, they are no less repetitive. I’d love to learn more about the meaning of her name.

    I managed to resist Matisse and Orianthi for months, but in analogy with a drilling rig or a tunnel-boring machine, Brandon’s relentless playing of their two songs every single time we would be driving had its intended effect: the songs entered my being, and I simply became powerless to resist any further. Now if I could only do the same to him with Lady Gaga and “Alejandro…”

    Regardless of my comments, kudos to the Buzz for predicting Orianthi’s success! As mototehnika noted in the comments, “You are our beacon of light in this long dark tunnel of chaos.”

    Aside: Matisse and Orianthi remind me of a most amusing (and caustic) article about the Eurovision song context, “Only Mr. God Knows Why” in the June 28, 2010 New Yorker magazine. Judging by the article, I think they would both be great candidates for Eurovision. Speaking of Eurovision, check out Verka Serduchka in the 2007 Eurovision contest.

    “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart” – Alicia Keys and “Million Dollar Bill” – Whitney Houston

    For whatever reason, I almost always confuse “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart” with “Million Dollar Bill” – could it be the fact that the sixth word in the song is “million”? – but it’s a thoughtful, lyrical, musically interesting song that definitely deserves at least several listens. As for the remix of “Million Dollar Bill,” I think I prefer the original.

    “Just Say Yes” by Snow Patrol

    This is another solid song from Snow Patrol that I am delighted to add to the other three Snow Patrol songs I own: “Crack the Shutters,” “Chasing Cars,” and “Hands Open.” While “Just Say Yes” has its share of repetition, it also has meaningful lyrics and interesting melodies. Admittedly I have limited experience, but I would not call Snow Patrol’s style “bombastic.”

    “Parachute” by Train

    Of the trio of my favorite songs from Train’s latest CD – “Parachute,” “Hey, Soul Sister” and “Save Me, San Francisco” – “Parachute” is by far the most interesting, while “Hey, Soul Sister” is the most catchy (and seemingly unavoidable on radio and TV, thanks to all those Samsung commercials), and “Save Me, San Francisco” is the most light-hearted. I am very happy to see Train back on track! (Pardon the pun.)

    A few words on the rest

    Of the remaining seven songs, I already own Lady Antebellum’s “Hello World” (and the less dramatic but still wonderful “I Run to You” and “Need You Now”), which I highly recommend.

    I very much enjoyed the music and lyrics of “Dying Day” and “Kandi” but the voices of the performers, Gin Wigmore and One Eskimo, are, regrettably, rather displeasing to my ears, Gin Wigmore being too painful and One Eskimo being too young (or teen-agey). Let’s find someone else to sing these, perhaps?

    Finally, Alpha Rev’s “New Morning” continues to work on me – it seems to be on VH-1 every morning when Brandon joins me for breakfast.

  9. the buzz from brandon:

    I have utterly no idea how you confuse “Million Dollar Bill” with “Broken Heart” (even factoring in the fact that Alicia Keys wrote them both!), as they couldn’t be more tonally disparate, so I’ll leave that one alone. But I have to tell you, I’m devastated that you have dismissed “Kandi” so summarily. I knew “Dying Day” would be a tough sell (and I submit to you that a big part of the reason that song is so tremendously moving and powerful is because Wigmore’s voice is so odd and off-kilter, not in spite of same), but I think “Kandi” is just extraordinary. The singer, Kristian Leontiou — who, if Wikipedia is to be believed, is only 18! — creates a spine-tingling, transcendent, credible chemistry with a thirty-year-old recording (!) and makes you completely believe he’d damn well sacrifice his soul to win his woman back. The rapturous, shattering emotion that people are said to feel when they watch an intense opera, that’s precisely what I feel when I hear this song, and I intend to play it for you every single chance I get until you beg for mercy and admit your fallacy in initially passing it by.

  10. the buzz from Sherry Ann:

    Give in, A!! This is the same approach that he used to get me to listen to Tori Amos!! If you do not admit that he is right he will put it on a continous loop until you do!! Resistance is futile!!

  11. the buzz from brandon:

    God bless you, Sherry Ann, you still know how I roll! (It’s for your own good; you know, I know it, you know I know it. 🙂 )