Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Strum and Twang: Hootie at Last! Plus Toby Keith and a re-match with Rascal Flatts

Posted By on Tue, Jul 14, 2009 at 9:00 AM

This week's three (plus one) top 10 country hits demonstrate the full range of approaches available to Nashville's hit-making men. There's Toby Keith's beefy traditionalism, Billy Currington's barroom morality tale, Darius Rucker's poppy reassurances, and Rascal Flatt's party-time crossover abomination.

They also demonstrate the limitations of those artists' producers, as every song here resorts to the cheap trick of dropping out most of the instruments for a dramatic hush just before the final chorus' fireworks. Meetings, guys! Meetings!

Toby Keith, "Lost You Anyway" (#11)

A Keeper
While not currently in the top ten, TK's latest scraped up to #10 over the Fourth just to make the terrorists cry. Sturdy and memorable as it is, it's too dour to be a true smash. Over a rich, repeating guitar churn that's as much British shoegaze as it is Waylon, Keith moans a list of cliches and clinches -- could have tried harder/kissed sweeter/given you the stars above -- tallying up all the nonsense that love songs suggest are relationship life-support. Keith's smarter than those cliches, so the kicker shouldn't surprise. Timed like a punchline at the end of that coulda/woulda chorus, he adds: I'd have lost you anyway.
Actually, that's I'd a' lost you, since this is Toby Keith. As always, each syllable comes out of his mouth as plump and samey as sausages from a casing machine, and the only way he can ratchet up the stakes on the last chorus is to sing it exactly the same but louder. Artistically, that bleating climax is the song's only mistake. Since he's singing of inevitable loss and his own refusal to change, the bombast makes little emotional sense.

Also, I have to give the lyric I hate it when it's like this/Baby, it's like that now the Blake Shelton "The More I Drink, The More I Drink" Award for Inarticulate Profundity.

Billy Currington, "People Are Crazy" (#4)

We talked about God's grace/and all the hell we raised, Currington wheezes over the polite plodding of session players, but this sorry number is touched by neither God nor devil, unless one of them works in Music Row marketing. Instead, it's another old-stranger-dispenses-truths song, a la "The Gambler" or "The Good Stuff." Seems Currington got to gabbing with some Ohio barfly about life, love, and what-have-you, and, hey, wouldn't you know, just like Kenny Rogers and Kenny Chesney before him, this old guy coughs up meter-fitting wisdom just in time for the chorus: God is great/beer is good/and people are crazy. Whatever punch the ancient Saturday night/Sunday morning paradox might retain is sapped by Currington's hopeless vagueness: What about God's grace? What kind of hell-raising?
Worse still is that Currington wheeze. Before Google image search taught me he's a McConaughey-style tank-top model, I pictured him as nothing but a nose in a Stetson. That leaves the final horror: the third-verse twist. Rather than spoil it, I'll give you a chance to guess.

In the third verse of "People Are Crazy," Billy Currington learns:
1.That fellowship with a stranger, even just for an hour or so, is reward in itself.
2.That the old man is his father, and that the father gave him that weak, droning nasal voice so people would pick on him and he'd learn how to fight.
3.That the old man is a millionaire who dies and leaves everything to Billy Currington, who repays by leaving a sixpack on the grave.

Darius Rucker, "Alright" (#6)

Darius Rucker -- you know, Hootie -- always struck me as a sunny journeyman without the angst to make him interesting, a rock star less likely to challenge himself than he was to head up his subdivision's bylaws committee. But as a country star, he comes across as elder statesmen and distinguished stylist. Even with that silvery trace of pitch correction making him sound 10 percent animatronic, his voice is rich and loamy, sometimes flecked with gold, and he phrases his pleasantries with more persuasive power than they deserve. Another positive: alt-nation ex-pats like Rucker and Jewel find that using fiddles and banjos is fresh and novel rather than ancient and ritualistic, which is how much of Nashville seems to think of them.

That means this simple celebration of domestic bliss plucks along likably, with Rucker letting us know everything's "alright" as long as he has the woman he loves in his bed. Still, it would mean a hell of a lot more on rock radio, where its sentiment -- Don't need no concert in the city/I got a stereo and the best of Patsy Cline -- might register as heartfelt rather than another round of Nashville reassuring its audience that alienation from cities and culture is the fault of cities and culture. Weirdly, Rucker sings that his life is all right because he's got a roof over my head and shoes under my feet which means he aims about as high as your average hobo.

Bonus: I just discovered "State Your Peace," a tune Rucker's old band knocked out in 2005. Come to find out the dude kind of rocked.

Rascal Flatts, "Summer Nights" (#10)

Comedy Gold!
I want to say this needs to be heard to be believed, but I can't without a warning. Before you've gaped at how twerpy Gary LeVox is as he shouts out to the ladies and then the fellas like he thinks he's Morris Day; and giggled at how he advises said ladies Y'all keep doin' y'all's thing; and winced at that Steve Perry squeal he botches when he further informs the ladies that everything about them makes him want to scre-ee-am!; and wondered when he falsettos Everybody's feelin' sexy! if anything -- culottes, maybe, or deviled eggs -- could be less sexy; and suffered brainfreeze at a climax that tries to inflate a hacky key-change, some Def Leppard guitar, and Levox's first-week-of-American-Idol caterwauling into something bigger than fireworks, an Air Force flyover and a Michael Bay orgasm all combined; remember: THIS SHIT CAN'T BE UN-HEARD.

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