Country 92.5’s 2013 Concert for St. Jude’s Kids

Country 92.5 Presents the 2013 Concert for Kids
Dustin Lynch, Jerrod Niemann, Jana Kramer,
Randy Houser & Courtney Drummey
Cadillac Ranch, Stonington, CT
February 25, 2013

Each year, Connecticut’s Country Music radio station puts together an acoustic show at the Cadillac Ranch, in Southington, CT.  The show is a benefit for St. Jude’s Children Hospital in Memphis, TN, a charity country music singers have always greatly supported.  This year’s show included Jerrod Niemann, Jana Kramer, Dustin Lynch, and Randy Houser.

Before the show, the ticket holders lined up in the cold to get entry to the Cadillac Ranch.  Jerrod Niemann appeared and walked up and down the line greeting fans, taking photos, and making jokes.  I caught up with him and cracked some jokes about the time we spent on the Blake Shelton Cruise this past October (see: http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-blake-shelton-friends-cruise-review.html).  He joked with me, saying: “those were better, warmer times.  Also blurrier times”.  I thought this accessibility to the fans was a classy move by Jerrod and it made the time spent by the fans on line a lot easier. 

The show consists of a guitar pull, as each of the artists stay on stage the whole time, joining in on each other’s songs.  Jerrod carried the show’s banter, as he added numerous jokes and comments about each of the artists.  He even added a baseball themed song about an old man getting hit by a ball that had everyone cracking up. 

Jana Kramer tried to add into the banter and discussed a bit of her new engagement with Brantley Gilbert.  She got a huge round of applause when she sang her new single “Whiskey” and “Why You Wanna” became an instant sing-a-long with the crowd.  The actress (One Tree Hill, Entourage) turned singer’s live voice has improved each time I have seen her perform.

Jerrod sang his top four hits, including a slower version of his new single, “One God Can Love You More”  The slower, acoustic version added to the beautiful lyrics of the song, which he co-wrote with Lee Brice.  All throughout the show, Jerrod was making jokes, but there is no comedy when it comes to his music as he is a true hit-maker.  When he belted out “Lover, Lover” during the last pull, the crowd may not have been louder all night.

Dustin Lynch had the girls in the crowd straight giddy as I overheard numerous comments about his looks.  But his voice is most impressive about him.  Backed by a ridiculously impressive guitarist from his band, Dustin took us through four of the cuts from his debut album.  But “Cowboys & Angels”, his first #1 single, was the absolute highlight of the whole night.  One of, if not the best country song of the year had all the significant others  in the crowd holding on to each other tight.  I expect great things from him in his career.

Randy Houser has one of the best vocals in music today.  And in the intimate Caddy Ranch, those booming vocals were straight bombastic.  He soared on “Like a Cowboy”, had the place rocking during “Boots On”, and his new single, “Running Out of Moonlight” had people ready to immediately request it on Country 92.5.  The final song of the night was very fitting as his first #1, “How Country Feels” was belted out by Randy as well as every last person in the crowd.

Each of the artists was on point and were quick to acknowledge both Country 92.5 and St. Jude’s Hospital.  I am proud to have donated to St. Jude’s as well as attend this event the past five years.  There was a poster signing at the end of the night, where those who bought the posters could meet the artists and get their signatures.  An overall classy evening where it’s always great to see musicians get together for a worthy cause. 

SETLIST:

  1. Good Time Coming On – Jana  Kramer
  2. Baseball Song – Jerrod Niemann
  3. One More Drinkin’ Song – Jerrod Niemann
  4. Dancing in the Headlights – Dustin Lynch
  5. Boots On – Randy Houser
  6. Whiskey – Jana Kramer
  7. What Do You Want From Me -Jerrod Niemann
  8. Cranks My Tractor – Dustin Lynch
  9. Like a Cowboy – Randy Houser
  10. Hope It Rains – Jana Kramer
  11. Only God Can Love You More – Jerrod Niemann
  12. Name On It – Dustin Lynch
  13. Running Out  of Moonlight –  Randy Houser
  14. Why  You Wanna – Jana Kramer
  15. Lover, Lover – Jerrod Niemann
  16. Cowboys & Angels – Dustin Lynch
  17. How Country Feels – Randy Houser

VIDEOS:

Only God Can Love You More
Cowboys and Angels
How Country Feels


King George Rides Away In Hartford

George Strait
The Cowboy Rides Away Tour
w/ Martina McBride
February 23, 2013
XL Center, Hartford, CT

When George Strait left the stage on Saturday night in Hartford, Connecticut, I felt a feeling that I’ve never experienced post-concert before.  It was a sadness that came with an immediate realization that it would most likely be the final time I’d ever hear his voice live again.  The feeling for the two hours before that was of great admiration for a true musical living legend.  The thirty three song set that King George performed was done so with passion, grace, and without the frills that most performers need to accompany their live performances.

Martina McBride opened the show with an hour long performance of her own.  I had never seen her live before and her voice was very impressive.  The squared shape “in the round” styled stage, which placed a microphone at all four sides, seemed to take away from Martina’s performance as she did not capture the audience’s attention as much as when George was out there.  Nonetheless, her vocals were beautiful as she went through her catalogue of hits.  She also appeared on stage during George’s set for a Johnny Cash & June Carter song, “Jackson”‘, as well as “Golden Ring”‘, a George Jones & Tammy Wynette cover.

Before George took to the stage, video clips of award shows and past memories played on  the various screens around the XL Center.  Also, clips of other artists played with messages for King George, including Tim McGraw, Reba, Ronnie Dunn, Kenny Chesney, and Blake Shelton.  The lights went low, and George walked on stage with his signature black hat and black guitar.  He belted out “Here For a Good Time” and the two hour sing-a-long began. 

Mid-way through the show, George strategically placed songs in a chronological order of his time as an artist as he sang older songs such as “80 Proof Bottle off Tear-Stopper” and “Honky-Tonk Crazy”.  He broke up the normal chain of events when he sang “Happy Birthday” to his wife and gave a wounded warrior  and his wife a new house plus groceries for a year.  The crowd was in the palm of his hands with every move and each song.

There were no flashy screens, extravagant light shows, or pyrotechnics needed.  Just a man with a guitar and a microphone, making his way around the stage so each side of the arena could get a glimpse of him as he sang his stories.  It is what makes George Strait so unique in comparison to most artists, you don’t need the “show” of a concert; instead, you just want to hear and see the man who has fifty-nine #1 hits do what God intended him to do. 

The crowd cheered just by the opening notes of a few songs, such as “Amarillo By Morning”, “Ocean Front Property”, “Stars on the Water” and “Give It Away”.  Other tunes, such as “I’ll Always Remember You”, “Troubadour” and the final number, “The Cowboy Rides Away” brought the emotional feelings on as you could see those song’s words meant as much to the man himself as it did for the crowd.

All in all, it was a concert event that I will never forget.  I really hope this was not the last time I ever see George Strait live, but with the announcement of his retirement from touring it seems inevitable.  But if it was, it was a display of perfection by the King of Country Music, complete with true class all the way… but would anyone expect anything else as the Cowboy Rides Away. 

SETLIST:

  1. Here For a Good Time
  2. Ocean Front Property
  3. Check Yes or No
  4. I Saw God Today
  5. Drinkin’ Man
  6. A Showman’s Life
  7. Love’s Gonna Make It Alright
  8. Arkansas Dave
  9. Jackson (Johnny Cash & June Cover, sung with Martina McBride)
  10. Golden Ring (George Jones & Tammy Wynette Cover, sung with Martina McBride)
  11. Happy Birthday (sung for his wife)
  12. Blame It On Mexico
  13. Her Goodbye Hit Me In the Heart
  14. 80 Proof Bottle of Tear-Stopper
  15. Honky-Tonk Crazy
  16. Marina Del Rey
  17. A Fire I Can’t Put Out
  18. The King of Broken Hearts
  19. Where the Sidewalk Ends
  20. The Chair
  21. River of Love
  22. How Bout Them Cowgirls
  23. Stars on the Water
  24. Give It Away
  25. Amarillo By Morning
  26. Give It All We Got Tonight
  27. I’ll Always Remember You
  28. Troubadour
  29. Unwound
  30. Same Kind of Crazy (ENCORE)
  31. All My  Ex’s Live In Texas (ENCORE)
  32. Folosm Prison Blues (Johnny Cash Cover) (ENCORE)
  33. The Cowboy Rides Away (ENCORE)

VIDEO:

“I’ll Always Remember You”

    My Vegas Weekend with Tim McGraw & Faith Hill: Soul 2 Soul

    Soul 2 Soul
    Tim McGraw & Faith Hill
    Venetian Theater, Las Vegas, NV
    February 15 and 16,  2013

    If you ever doubted the power that country couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill has, all thoughts would be erased if you spent any time at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, NV.  Tim and Faith’s images are displayed on huge billboards, advertisements, and slot machines all over the hotel and casino.  Even the elevators play a commercial with snippets of their songs continuously on repeat.  All of the advertising for the “two icons, ten weekends” paid off as I was treated to two sold out shows at the intimate Venetian Theater.  I saw the early show on Friday, February 15th (8:00 p.m.) and the late show on Saturday, February 16th (10:30 p.m.) as they performed two shows each night. 

    The Venetian Theater is covered with roman statutes, red and gold drapery, candles and chandeliers.  The stage is quite small and was illuminated with blue lights and silver bars.  The Waylon Jennings classic “Are you sure Hank Done It This Way” blasted over the speakers right before the lights went low and Tim and Faith’s silhouettes appeared on a large screen on stage and the two shared in singing “Like I Never Loved At All”.  However, to everyone’s surprise, when the shade dropped, the two were not on stage, but walking in from the back of the theater down the aisles on both sides.  Faith sang the appropriate “Hey Baby Let’s Go to Vegas” and both shook hands and took pictures with fans as they made their way down the aisle to the stage. 

     

    As they got on stage, Tim ripped into the megahit, “Something Like That” as Faith danced around her husband, full of smiles.  It thrilled the crowd to see the two interact on stage with true affection.  Thee setup of the show was class all the way.  The backdrop for each of the songs were detailed with intricate moving shapes and an impressive light show.  Tim and Faith combined their respective band members for a megaband that added an impressive backing of instruments and vocals. 

    Each night was essentially the same, despite some of the banter and their wardrobe.  At one point, halfway through the show, the two sat at chairs and spoke directly to the crowd.  The first night, the two were absolutely hysterical.  They joked about orthodontists, twitter, the Grammy’s, and Duck Dynasty.  Faith told the crowd how she wants to be like Beyonce to which Tim responded with “Oh, Beyonce and Jay-Z ain’t got nothing on us”. 

    They also spoke about their music influences.  Faith said her first ever show was Elvis, when she was eight years old.  To which Tim responded with “yeah, he was fat”.  She also said she loved Tammy Wynettte, George Strait, Reba and Aretha Franklin.  

    Tim said he grew up on Merle Haggard and George Jones, but when he got older he got into Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, and Rush.  However, he said the band that made him want to make his own music was the Eagles.  Tim sang two Eagles songs after Faith sang a bit of Tammy Wynette.  He playfully said, “that sounded good, what you got Faith?”  She responded by singing a bombastic Aretha Franklin song and he said “oh well, this is where I get my ass kicked”. 

    The show’s setlist was set up similarly to Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne Tour (see http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2011/11/watch-throne-madison-square-garden.html) in that the couple performed songs separately mixed in with duets.  The crowd responded with a plethera of cheers and screams during their most intimate songs.  “Like I Never Loved at All” and “It’s Your Love” were performed with passion.  They embraced each other with hugs and kisses after many of the songs and the audience could see the true admiration the two have for each other. 

    One glaring omission from the setlist was “Let’s Make Love”.  Instead, they opted to sing “Like I Never Loved At All” twice.  Despite that one exclusion, the rest of the choices were perfect.  I had previously seen Tim live a half dozen or so times, but this was the first time I’d ever seen Faith.  She really surpassed my expectations and his voice was impeccable and she moved around the stage with true grace and class.  A stand-out moment was her performance of “Cry” which she appeared in front of green lights and a four illuminated circles that moved dramatically around the stage (see video below). 

    Tim performed an astounding version of “Live Like You Were Drying” that brought people to tears before the Encore.  As the lights went dim, two chairs facing each other, with a single microphone rose from beneath the stage.  Faith walked in from the left and Tim from the right and sat down grasping each other.  They performed a beautiful rendition of “I Need You”, all while looking into each other’s eyes.  At song’s end, they kissed, hugged, stood up and bowed.  They the walked off the stage and up the aisle to the exit, hand-in-hand.  You could not help getting goosebumps watching the two mega-stars perform to perfection, all the while showing style and elegance.  But, most of all, they displayed true love for each other.

    SETLIST:

    1. Like I Never Loved At All (Snippet)
    2. Hey Baby Let’s Go To Vegas
    3. Something Like That
    4. This Kiss
    5. Real Good Man
    6. Let Me Let Go
    7. It’s Your Love
    8. Cowboy In Me
    9. One of Those Nights
    10. Cry
    11. Like We Never Loved At All
    12. Time (Tammy Wynette Cover)
    13. Can’t Tell You Why (Eagles Cover)
    14. Life In The Fast Lane (Eagles Cover)
    15. Dr. Feelgood (Aretha Franklin Cover)
    16. Breathe
    17. American Heart
    18. Felt Good On My Lips
    19. Take Another Piece of My Heart
    20. Live Like I Was Dying
    21. I Need You (Encore)

    VIDEOS:

    Like I Never Loved At All
     

     

     
    It’s Your Love

     

     
    I Need You
     
     
     
    Cry
     
     
     
     
    Felt Good On My Lips
     
     
     
     
     
    
     
    

    A Conversation with John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band

    A Conversation with John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band
     
    I had the privilege of speaking with John Driskell Hopkins the day before he won a Grammy Award with Zac Brown Band for best country album of the year.  Hopkins released a side project with the bluegrass band, Balsam Range, and spoke to me about working with both bands. 

    You can see my review for “Daylight” at: http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2013/02/john-driskell-hopkins-and-balsam-range.html as well as my review for Zac Brown Band’s Grammy Award winnning “Uncaged” at: http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2013/02/john-driskell-hopkins-and-balsam-range.html

    Below is my conversation with Hopkins:

     

     
    Q: How did you get together with Balsam Range?

    A: Well, I am a fan. I listen to them on radio and I listen to a lot of Bluegrass radio where ever I go. Whenever I need my fix, I have my collection with me because I love Bluegrass music. They (Balsam Range) are on the radio, they have four albums plus had song of the year back on their last record. These guys are amazing, not only are they accomplished in the genre, but when you listen to them you realize there is something different about these guys. Their song choices are very heartfelt and they’ve got a more modern feel but they way they get after music is very traditional at the same time. They are just amazing and there is something different about Balsam Range that sets them apart to me. I found their website and e-mailed them asking if they were interested in making the record.

    Q: How long did you all work on the record together?

    A: It was in the middle of 2011 that we met and got together. Over the next year we played some gigs together and talked about how we would pursue the record. Of course I was a bit busy with you fans, but eight months later in February of 2012 we got in the studio. We made the record back in North Carolina and finished it all over the southeast in Florida, and over here at my house and mixed it in Nashville. We got done in August and the hard release was in October for our shows. We then did a radio release in January.

    Q: The one thing that stood out to me was your style on DJ and Shady Bald Breakdown. How do you describe that style?

    A: It something I learned from my early college days from some artists you have heard over the years, as well as in historical jazz music. It is singing without words, freestyling. It is like solo’ing, really. My instrumental chops are strongest in my throat. I’ve always tried to embrace that.

    Q: I have seen you do everything from “Baby Got Back” to “Enter the Sandman” at live shows. Is there any type of genre you won’t try?
     
    A: No! With us there are no rules.
     
    Q: What type of music to you grow up listening to? What would you say your roots are in?
     
     
    A: Well I have always listened to pop radio and have been affected by country in my decisioning. We also grew up on Church music and spent a lot of time in the mountains. We were exposed to lots of different styles. And radio became a big part of my musical experience. I loved Journey and big vocal harmonies like that. When I got older I got into U2 and R.E.M. and later Pearl Jam, as well as Marty Robbins. I love rich sounding artists. It’s been a long list of artists. I’ve been attracted to good music, no matter what it is. I never went country and stayed country, or went rock and stayed rock.
     
     
    Q: I guess that why you and Zac blend so well. As in your last ZBB album you had Island Song and Overnight, two non-traditional country songs.
     
     
    A: All of us in that band are alike in that respect. We all appreciate and write different styles and want to play different styles. Bluegrass to me is a wonderful marriage of country and folk and I’ve always been an acoustic guitar player. Then I learned the bass guitar and that’s what I mainly play in the Zac Brown Band and I think that was a good choice for me which fits great.
     
     
    Q: How many instruments can you play?
     
     
    A: Well, I can play a few. I am proficient on the bass and that’s it. My guitar playing is decent. I’m learning how to play the banjo. I love them all. I know a few chords on the madolin. As far as when I sit down to sing a song with the intrument, yeah, give me a few minutes and I can put it together. It’s just what musicians do. As far as the guys in Balsam Range, they are far more proficient on their instruments than I. But as my dad always said, surround yourself with people that are better than you and that is a way of proving yourself.
     
     
    Q: The banjo player, Marc Pruett, really stands out on the album.
     
     
    A: The world famous, Grammy Award winning, Marc Pruett. He is the real deal and all the guys in Balsam Range are like that. Being able to hang with them has been a real joy for me.
     
     
    Q: They are playing the Opry next month, correct?
     
     
    A: Yes, we are. I will be with them.
     
     
    Q: Any chance you can tell me what songs you will be playing at the Opry?
     
     
    A: Well, I am pretty sure we will sing “I Will Lay Me Down”. Not sure about the other as we were given two songs. It will either be “She Don’t Love Me Today” or “Runaway Train”, just not sure yet. “I Will Lay Me Down” is our strongest tune and we want to play that for sure. The other choices are will we knock it off the rails or take it straight down the pike. Either choice is going to be great for me, but I haven’t decided yet.
     
     
    Q: Any chance we see Balsam Range on the road with ZBB in the future?
     
     
    A: I’d love to. Whenever they are around I’d love to have them in. It puts a lot of us on stage together but its cool with me and cool with Zac. We had a good time with them all the other night. But with schedules it is hard coordinate. It’s quite the commitment and I have to be sensitive to them.
     
     
    Q: We would love to have you in the greater New York City/Tri-State area. When I saw you with ZBB at Madison Square Garden the atmosphere was electric. What were your feelings that night?
     
     
    A: That was a big night for us. Getting to play Madison Square Garden is maybe the biggest venue ever. You know, its like the golden ring. I’d love to bring Balsam Range up there with us at some point.
     
     
    Q: I saw you guys will be at the Grammy Awards this weekend and you are nominated.
     
     
    A: Yes and Zac will be on stage doing a Levon Helm tribute with some other artists. Whatever you have read is as much as I know there.
     
     
    Q: Thank you for your time and continued success with all your music projects.
     
     
    A: Thanks man, and I hope this album will be well received for a long time.
     
     
     

    John Driskell Hopkins and Balsam Range – “Daylight”: Track by Track Dissection (plus an interview with John Driskell Hopkins)

    Track by Track Dissection
    John Driskell Hopkins and Balsam Range – “Daylight”

    John Driskell Hopkins, founding member of the Grammy Award Winning Zac Brown Band, got together with Bluegrass specialists, Balsam Range to create “Daylight”.  It is mainly a bluegrass album which incorporates shades of country, folk, rock, and roots music.  Balsam Range, an award winning band in their own right, consists of Caleb Smith, Marc Pruett, Buddy Melton, Tim Surrett, and Darren Nicholson. 

    I found the album to be a beautiful listening experience with unique blends of harmony and a display of true skillmanship, intrumentally. What follows is a track by track review of what I heard and felt when listening to each of the songs.  I was also able to speak with John over the phone about this project and our conversation is listed after the review.  I urge all with able ears to get a copy of Daylight.  The exceptional vocal abilities of John really shine as his deep, profound voice pump passion to each and every track. 

    1. Runaway Train  (Featuring Jerry Douglas)

    The album starts out with John’s voice mimicking a train and some simple guitar picking.  What follows is bombastic first song which takes listeners inside the mind of man who seems to be completely out of control in his life.  “Runaway Train” is a rollicking ride of emotions sung with passion and, at times, controlled anger.  Musically, the guitars use a bit of slap throughout which add to the dramatic tone of the song. 


    2. I Will Lay Me Down (Featuring Zac Brown)

    This, as a big Zac Brown Band fan, was a true highlight.  The melody of the track is absolutely beautiful with all instruments connecting, tied together with a skilled rift.  John sings of not having a problem passing away happy, as long as he has lived a complete life.  Zac Brown adds his star vocals, harmonizing with John, as well as a solo verse.  The storyline, the instruments, and the harmonizes produce a masterfully executed track.  It was also refreshing to see two members of the Grammy Award Winning Zac Brown Band step outside of their normal country music setting and take on a true Bluegrass song. 




    3. Daylight (Featuring Tony Trischka)

    The title track takes on a more country vibe as it has a charming feel to a simple  love song.  John sings about a man who knows he must find a way to see through all of life’s problems to see how to truly find love.  The guitar work on the song really shines with several competing rifts and melodies meshed together to produce a beautiful tune. 


    4. Nothing

    The banjo is the star of this song as my ear constantly heard the instrument stand out above all others.  The song seems to be about a man who is very relieved that his woman has broken up with him.  What starts off somewhat solemn becomes a happy tune of a thankful man.  While the banjo is prominent, you can hear the immense skill of Balsam Range as all instruments again combine to a comforting combination. 

    5. Bye Baby Goodbye (Featuring Joey + Rory)

    John’s vocals are never better on the album as he is able to show how he can impressively hit both low and high octaves.  Country duo, Joey + Rory, add their skills to the song as a guest feature.  Joey and John trade bars within the song and, at times, harmonize together, singing words of a mutual break-up.  The song is more about the vocals than the instruments, which is rare on the “Daylight” album, yet effective nonetheless.

    6. She Don’t Love Me Today

    A light-hearted and humorous tune which has a fast tempo throughout.  The song’s basic message is how a man and woman can love each other unconditionally, but, at times, can be at each other’s throats.  John sings of how much he loves his woman, but how has done something stupid and is paying for it at home.  The banjo, played by Marc Pruett, is again very prominent throughout this witty song.
     

    7. Be My Girl

    A slow, soulful song which is more country than Bluegrass.  John’s delivery really makes the track work, specifically how he holds the last note of “girl” in the chorus.  It’s a beautiful set up where a man is describing what he has envisioned if she would agree to be with him.  The Band uses complex and extremely skilled sheet-music throughout this entire album, yet they keep it relatively simple on this track, and it worked perfectly. 

    8. The Devil Lives in a Mason Jar

    This is another track where John and the boys get to flex their muscles and sing with ripe passion.  As the song plays it builds with a sense of anger and mystery.  The message of the song of how, when this man drinks alcohol, he becomes a different, more devilish person.  John has a unique way of sounding possessed when he wants to and this song showcases that.

    9. How Could I? (Featuring Levi Lowrey)

    This song takes more of a folk song than any other.  Levi Lowrey is a song-writer who seems to create songs with a dark and poignsnt feel to them.  The man in the song is disgusted with himself for taking certain things for granted.  The harmonization of Levi with John was simple, yet effective. 

    10.  It’s Not Ok

    This is a remake of the song off of the Triple Platinum Zac Brown Band album “The Foundation”.  Daylight’s version is much more bluegrassy and a fresh take on a fan favorite song.  I have seen John take lead vocals on this tune various times at a ZBB show.  I found it entertaining that Balsam Range took it upon themselves to pay homage to the original while putting their own stamp on it.  Pruett’s banjo is the biggest difference between the original and this version. 

    11.  The Grass Don’t Get No Greener

    This track had me on my toes at all times.  It starts off with an almost show-tune type of feel, but John comes in with some thunderous vocals, followed with various other members of Balsam Range singing for the first time all album.  The tempo is unbelievably fast at some points, and slow and controlled at others.  Quite the musical kitchen sink. 

    12. DJ

    This is a song I can play over and over again.  The voice freestyling displayed by John is so unique in today’s music.  The voice modulations mirrored the instruments as the band frolics through the song with mastery.  I dare you to listen to this song and not have phrase “diggity-da-boom” running through your head the rest of the day. 

    13. Shady Bald Breakdown

    An instrumental track (besides some freestyling by John towards the end) which shows how immensly talented  Caleb Smith, Marc Pruett, Buddy Melton, Tim Surrett, Darren Nicholson, and John Driskell Hopkins are.  Fast paced, intense, and exquisite are all terms that came to my mind while listening to this song.  It is a perfect ending to superb album, as no words are needed to depict the mastery behind this collaborative project. 

    A MTS EXCLUSIVE
     *A Conversation with John Driskell Hopkins*
     
    Q: How did you get together with Balsam Range?
     
    A: Well, I am a fan.  I listen to them on radio and I listen to a lot of Bluegrass radio where ever I go.  Whenever I need my fix, I have my collection with me because I love Bluegrass music.  They (Balsam Range) are on the radio, they have four albums plus had song of the year back on their last record.  These guys are amazing, not only are they accomplished in the genre, but when you listen to them you realize there is something different about these guys.  Their song choices are very heartfelt and they’ve got a more modern feel but they way they get after music is very traditional at the same time.  They are just amazing and there is something different about Balsam Range that sets them apart to me.  I found their website and e-mailed them asking if they were interested in making the record. 
     
    Q: How long did you all work on the record together?
    A: It was in the middle of 2011 that we met and got together.  Over the next year we played some gigs together and talked about how we would pursue the record.  Of course I was a bit busy with you fans, but eight months later in February of 2012 we got in the studio.  We made the record back in North Carolina and finished it all over the southeast in Florida, and over here at my house and mixed it in Nashville.  We got done in August and the hard release was in October for our shows.  We then did a radio release in January.
     
    Q: The one thing that stood out to me was your style on DJ and Shady Bald Breakdown.  How do you describe that style?
    A: It something I learned from my early college days from some artists you have heard over the years, as well as in historical jazz music.  It is singing without words, freestyling.  It is like solo’ing, really.  My instrumental chops are strongest in my throat. I’ve always tried to embrace that.
    Q: I have seen you do everything from “Baby Got Back” to “Enter the Sandman” at live shows.  Is there any type of genre you won’t try?
    A: No! With us there are no rules. 
     
    Q: What type of music to you grow up listening to?  What would you say your roots are in?
    A: Well I have always listened to pop radio and have been affected by country in my decisioning.  We also grew up on Church music and spent a lot of time in the mountains.  We were exposed to lots of different styles.  And radio became a big part of my musical experience.  I loved Journey and big vocal harmonies like that.  When I got older I got into U2 and R.E.M. and later Pearl Jam, as well as Marty Robbins.  I love rich sounding artists.  It’s been a long list of artists.  I’ve been attracted to good music, no matter what it is.  I never went country and stayed country, or went rock and stayed rock. 
     
    Q: I guess that why you and Zac blend so well.  As in your last ZBB album you had Island Song and Overnight, two non-traditional country songs. 
    A: All of us in that band are alike in that respect.  We all appreciate and write different styles and want to play different styles.  Bluegrass to me is a wonderful marriage of country and folk and I’ve always been an acoustic guitar player.  Then I learned the bass guitar and that’s what I mainly play in the Zac Brown Band and I think that was a good choice for me which fits great.
     
    Q: How many instruments can you play?
    A: Well, I can play a few.  I am proficient on the bass and that’s it.  My guitar playing is decent.  I’m learning how to play the banjo.  I love them all.  I know a few chords on the madolin.  As far as when I sit down to sing a song with the intrument, yeah, give me a few minutes and I can put it together.  It’s just what musicians do.  As far as the guys in Balsam Range, they are far more proficient on their instruments than I.  But as my dad always said, surround yourself with people that are better than you and that is a way of proving yourself. 
     
    Q: The banjo player, Marc Pruett, really stands out on the album. 
    A: The world famous, Grammy Award winning, Marc Pruett.  He is the real deal and all the guys in Balsam Range are like that.  Being able to hang with them has been a real joy for me.
     
    Q: They are playing the Opry next month, correct?
    A: Yes, we are.  I will be with them.
     
    Q: Any chance you can tell me what songs you will be playing at the Opry?
    A: Well, I am pretty sure we will sing “I Will Lay Me Down”.  Not sure about the other as we were given two songs.  It will either be “She Don’t Love Me Today” or “Runaway Train”, just not sure yet.  “I Will Lay Me Down” is our strongest tune and we want to play that for sure.  The other choices are will we knock it off the rails or take it straight down the pike.  Either choice is going to be great for me, but I haven’t decided yet. 
     
    Q: Any chance we see Balsam Range on the road with ZBB in the future?
    A: I’d love to.  Whenever they are around I’d love to have them in.  It puts a lot of us on stage together but its cool with me and cool with Zac.  We had a good time with them all the other night.  But with schedules it is hard coordinate.  It’s quite the commitment and I have to be sensitive to them.
     
    Q: We would love to have you in the greater New York City/Tri-State area.  When I saw you with ZBB at Madison Square Garden the atmosphere was electric.  What were your feelings that night?
    A: That was a big night for us.  Getting to play Madison Square Garden is maybe the biggest venue ever.  You know, its like the golden ring.  I’d love to bring Balsam Range up there with us at some point.
     
    Q: I saw you guys will be at the Grammy Awards this weekend and you are nominated.
    A: Yes and Zac will be on stage doing a Levon Helm tribute with some other artists.  Whatever you have read is as much as I know there. 
     
    Q: Thank you for your time and continued success with all your music projects.
    A:  Thanks man, and I hope this album will be well received for a long time. 

    Tim McGraw – Two Lanes of Freedom : Track by Track Dissection

    Track by Track Dissection
    Tim McGraw’s “Two Lanes of Freedom”

    Country Music Megastar Tim McGraw released his first album, “Two Lanes of  Freedom” on February 5, 2013, via his new label, Big Machine Label Group.  The album clearly displays that the chains of his past have been unlocked and his musical persona has been released.  The album is solid from start to finish with flashes of brilliance that brings us back to his past country music dominance.  This project is easily his best effort since 2007’s “Let It Go”.  Below, I give my first person dissection of each track on the Deluxe album.  I am excited to see McGraw perform with his wife at the Venetian in Las Vegas (which I will be reviewing next week) as well as on his own headlining tour this summer. 

    1. Two Lanes of Freedom

    The first song of the album is the title cut and it is vintage Tim McGraw.  The song starts off soft and soulful, but, at forty-five seconds, the drums kick in and his voice soars for the rest of the track.  It is a simple song lyrically, telling a story of a man freely driving around back roads with his woman by  his side.  However, the chords in the song showcase Tim’s voice perfectly as he reaches impressive high and low notes with ease.  I could pinpoint five tracks on the album that would do extremely well at country radio if they were released as singles and this is certainly one of them.  I envision him kicking off his summer concerts with “Two Lanes of Freedom” as the first song of his setlist.  He performs this song with the soulful dramatics that long-time Tim McGraw fans have come  to love. 

    2. One Of Those Nights

    Currently sitting in the Top 5 on Mediabase, “One of Those Nights” creates an atmosphere of sheer happiness through the themes of love and parties.  The track excels with the way McGraw uses tempo to his advantage.  The chorus is slower, but the verses display a rapid word-play which, at times, boarders a rapping style.  The song is sexy and fun, perfect for the anticipation of an early Friday night when you are hoping for a great night. I expect this single to reach number 1 before February leaves us. 



    3. Friend of A Friend

    Every good country album needs a heartbreak song and “Friend of a Friend”  is Tim’s take on one.  The song is about a man who is trying to give off the impression to his ex that  he does not care, although he knows everything about her.  To me, the man is a boarder-line stalker, justifying to himself why he knows everything about the woman who clearly left him a long time ago.  Musically, the song flows with Tim’s voice rollicking up and down throughout. 

    4. Southern Girl

    Another sexy song, showcasing Tim’s twang and fun side.  It has catchy lyrics talking about what men love most about Southern Girls.  This is another song that I feel would do well on country radio.  The song does some fun things with the equalizer at the end of the chorus that makes the song very appealable.  It is not a deep song by any means, but has a pop-country feel to it without selling out on the Tim McGraw brand. 

    5. Truck Yeah

    This song was released as a single on July 3, 2013 and became Tim’s highest solo chart debut at #22 on the Country Billboard Charts.  It went on to peak at #10.  As a radio cut, I could never buy into this song.  It seemed like a sloppy and stupid topic making all most no sense to me at all.  However, when I saw him perform it live on the Brothers of the Sun Tour with Kenny Chesney, I saw it for what is was, a fun song, especially when played live and loud.  Certainly not the song with the most quality, but it obviously had some appeal to the larger masses.


    6. Nashville Without You

    This, for me, is one of the best songs on the album.  While I don’t think it will necessarily be a single, it has a beautiful tune combined with hidden dedications galore.  Not only does he pay homage to the City of Nashville and its fans, but he really thanks all of the artists who have come before him.  With clear compliments to Willie Nelson (“hey blue eyes, crying in the rain”), Johnny Cash (“hey fire, burning round the ring”), Dwight Yoakam (“no long white Cadillac”), Hank Williams Jr. (“no country boy can survive”) and the list goes on.  I would love him to release this as a single, but it may not have enough commercial appeal as some of the others.  Either way, it is a real standout song to me with a unique way of dedicating a song to a number of country legends. 

    7. Book Of John

    A song about a book found in the attic of a family’s house of memories. It has a feeling of nostalgia throughout as the family recounts all the memories that go along with the pictures described in the song.  At the end of the song, you learn that photo book was made by their deceased father.  It is one of those songs that make country music great, a song which can tug at your heart while painting a descriptive picture in your mind as it is sung. 

    8. Annie I Owe You A Dance

    A song about a regretful father, who is looking back at so many of the major moments in his daughter’s life that he missed.  Tim delivers the song with sadness in his voice, probably because he is so involved in his daughters’ lives that he cannot believe anyone would  live a life like that.  It is not clear if the father really gets a second chance in the song or not, be he clearly knows he does not deserve it. 


    9. Mexicoma

    Simply put, a clear radio hit.  Tim sings a song about his alcohol-induced reaction to a break-up that just occurred.  The man has no idea where he is, but he knows it is somewhere near Mexico, or Oklahoma.  With catchy lyrics such as “the sun still shines on a fool like me” and “I’m sitting here stoned at Tortilla Jones, where nobody knows my name  and that’s okay by me”, the song has a playful tone about a man who is obviously attempting to justify the binge he just went on post break-up.  Trumpets and even a hint of an accordion play in the background giving it a unique sound very different from the usual fiddle or steel guitar. 


    10. Number 37045

    A song about an inmate who used to be the life of the party, but killed someone while he drove drunk.  He now lives his life wondering what is happening outside his jail cell.  The lyrics paint a picture of how solemn his life has become because he is so regretful of what he did.  All he has to hang on to are the sounds of birds or a church bell in the distance.  It is one of the few songs that show an inmate in a sympathetic and apologitic state. 


    11. It’s Your World

    This is a song that will get every woman who listens to it excited.  It is a man’s honest acceptance that he is willing to do everything and anything to keep his woman and “it’s your world baby, I’m just living in it”.  Another fast tempo, fun song that has commercial appeal to it. 

    12. Tinted Windows

    Another song about past memories.  This one remembers a girl he had when he had his first car, which,  you guessed it, had tinted windows.  Tim’s band, the Dancehall Doctors, get to shine on this one as there are various spots of solo instrumentals and collaborative dramatic jam outs.  Not much  to it lyrically, but the song is pleasing to the ear as the Band really nails it.  The piano stands out during the verses and the guitars scream on the chorus.

    13. Highway Don’t Care (featuring Taylor Swift and Keith Urban)

    This song will go Platinum, mark my words.   Not only does it have lyrics from Tim and teen-sensation Taylor Swift, but it includes some electric guitar solos from the highly talented Keith Urban.  I was afraid this song would be too poppy, but I was pleasantly surprised when I heard it.  It is perfectly executed as Tim and Taylor engage each other in a manor where one (Tim) describes a woman’s actions while she is driving and the other (Taylor) sings what that woman hears on the radio.  It starts slow and picks up continuously throughout this masterpiece.  Urban’s skills, which are arguably the best in country music, get a few solos where he makes his presence very well known.  In the end, its a song about how a woman, who just went through a break-up, takes to the Highway to try to drive away her tears, but knows it won’t help, only love will.  The back and forth interplay of Tim and Taylor really makes what this song what it is.  Instead of the standard single verse feature that most songs stick to, the three stars are interacting at the same time.  The result is excellence. 

    14. Let Me Love It Out of You

    A bluesy love song where the man is pleading with his woman to stop fighting and just let him love her.  A simple guitar and piano play alongside while Tim puts forth a very convincing delivery of reasons why they should stop fighting.  The song is included on the deluxe version of the album, but is just as good as any of the other tracks.  The electric guitar really speaks as an additional voice as it screams and begs with a sense of sexyness. 

    15. Truck Yeah (Live)

    This is just an added bonus thrown in for the fans who like this song.  Enjoy this live performance video of the song: