Sweet Jesus, is it already 2016?!

The last post here is from 2014 and when I took a glance at it just now I was like, “ah, that was just last…”

No. It wasn’t just anything. That was a long time ago. And man, so much has changed. Here’s a fun fact…

People don’t blog anymore! LOL. Of course that’s not true. Having said that, I’m not even sure if people say “LOL” anymore. I do know that asking people to click on a link somewhere in Facebook or Twitter that’ll bring them to an outside website is sometimes too much to ask, and that we should be pontificating right inside those online worlds.

But I’ve already paid the bill for this site, for this year anyway, so I’m gonna stick around.

That's me. 2016 version. Wispy grey hairs an' all.

That’s me. 2016 version. Wispy grey hairs an’ all.

JosephBrant.ca has been like that aunt and uncle you say you’re going to stop in and visit some time but rarely ever do: the idea pops in your head every now and then, that you should engage, fulfill the promise you made (if, and sometimes only, to yourself), that there’s nothing to lose… but then … I dunno… it’s time for dinner, or it’s time for bed. Or it’s time to write.

My biggest excuse for avoiding josephbrant.ca is that my priority these past couple years has been to write and read, the work of earning an MFA in Creative Writing, as well as my work online with a couple side jobs I keep. At the end of the day, many days, I’m like “I been on this computer too damn long.” So then I go eat, or to bed.

But I’m back. That’s the good news. Now… about that aunt and uncle…

… and the migration from my old site is complete

It took a far, FAR shorter amount of time than I’d anticipated. In fact, I think I was able to make this happen within an hour. Unbelievable.

I’d been concerned about losing the links and embedded video, in particular, and it was like magic the way they were just cut-and-pasted from my old site to this one.  It was SO easy.

I’m leaving Typepad for obvious reasons (if you’re familiar with Typepad). It was the original blogging platform that my blog-hero Andrew Sullivan used way, and I mean WAY, back in the day. For years people and the Internet in general had recommended WordPress (the more difficult to set up .org version) and because it seemed so daunting, I held off. Setting up Typepad was easy, though costly in the end. The main reason I’m bailing is the $11/month I’m paying just to access it. (Again, possibly my fault. The hosting here I’m paying for annually instead of monthly).

Last summer, 2013, I found a social media program at Seneca College that walked me through the entire process of WordPress.org so I’m glad I’m finally here. Another reason i’m grateful to #SenecaSoMe: I learned that for SEO purposes it’s smarter to just have quality and consistent posts on a site than to just get a fancy URL. The previous site was called Critically Country but the URL was countrymusicincanada.com. I thought that was all it would take. I was wrong.

And there were other quirky things. I absolutely hate headlines where each word is capitalized, and there was no way around it in Typepad. A world of difference here at WordPress. My only concern with WordPress, of course, is the unrelenting spam comments. Now that I’ve updated all the plugins here, I’m really hoping that won’t be a problem. Fingers crossed.

So when you browse through the history of the posts here, the ones from Critically Country will be labeled “CLASSIC” in the headline, and before it you’ll find some old assignments from the #SenecaSoMe program. I haven’t looked through them since I submitted them, so cringeworthy as they may be, something inside is telling me to keep them for future reference.

 

CLASSIC: Best of 2013 — Canadian country songs

There was a lot of really great music produced in Canada this year. I’m not so much the radio listener I once was, though it remains the primary source to identify new music. Though my iPod worked overtime accommodating my LOVE for some of last year’s really great songs (I could listen to “I Wish I’d Known” on a loop for an hour and not complain), the following list is made up of the Canadian country songs that made 2013 great.

10. “Blame It On the Radio” – Small Town Pistols

Even if it’s just 2/3 of them, it’s always great to hear new music from The Wilkinsons.

9. “Love You For a Long Time” – High Valley/”Where the Party At” – Chad Brownlee

These songs were all over the radio where I live. You hear them often enough, they become favourites, and that’s not a bad thing. Because there were quite a few songs embraced by Canadian country radio that were far less “country” but played even more.

8. “Bounty” – Dean Brody

A true Canadian country star leads a new album with this classic story song you almost never hear in country music anymore. The Lindi Ortega cameo is a great highlight.

7. “Don’t Say You Love Me” – Alee

Where did THIS come from?! Yes, it’s one of those “less country” tunes, but it sounds so goooood. I heard somewhere an acoustic version, and discovered it was written on a piano. Stripped down, the song is much more emotive — but the banjo hidden in the big blaring electric mix here is nice, too!

6. “Get By” – Tim Hicks

Unavoidable, especially throughout the first half of 2013, this was co-written by Florida Georgia Line so if you’ve not heard it yet, you know what kind of song you’re in for. So infectious and fun, it’s easily the single of the year.

5. “Never Gonna Let You” – MacKenzie Porter

I was blown away by “I Wish I’d Known” last year and this follow-up is just as great. The instrumentation has an amped up acoustic feel, and her voice doesn’t try to be country which is refreshing, as is the ode-to-friendship content.

4. “Can’t Keep Waiting” – Autumn Hill

Just like “I Wish I’d Known,” this duo’s first single from last year “Anything At All” was one of those songs that stops you in your tracks the first time you hear it. Subsequent singles, like this one and the recent “Fire,” have been solid.  I really like these guys.

3. “Hope & Gasoline” – Beverley Mahood

Beverley Mahood is BACK!  I’ve been a fan since “Girl Out of the Ordinary” yet when I first heard that whispery voice on this brilliant track I was afraid it was a one-off single intended to keep her country cred — a requirement for CMT to keep it’s country cred while producing decidedly un-country shows like “Pick A Puppy.” Then Patricia Conroy mentioned on the In the Country with Dave Woods podcast that her husband and producer Bob Funk is producing an entire album for Beverley, and that is super news.

2. “When Your Lips Are So Close” – Gord Bamford

One of Canadian country’s most traditional voices leads a new album with this gem. Unlike any single he’s ever released, the rolling tempo is so inviting and pleasing. At first listen I was like, “whaaat?!” but after I settled down and gave it a good listen, I was hooked.

1. “Duet” – Wes Mack (feat. Carly McKillip)

This song is HOT. I’m genuinely torn between hardcore traditional country and turbo-charged hyper electric sounds like this one. Just a Top 10 in Canada, it’s the sort of song country radio salivates over so it should’ve been #1 for many weeks. The new Keith Urban song is a sonic clone.

 

Honorable Mention:
“Let It Burn” – Lisa Brokop
I just heard it for the first time today. Lisa has made better quality music since she stopped chasing the major labels. She has an unusual voice, and these self-written songs make the full package so much better. “Break It” is an all-time favourite.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on December 21, 2013)

CLASSIC: Best of 2013 — American country songs

First, a warning: these are not necessarily the best country songs of the year. This is a list of the songs and performances I could not get out of my head. Like ’em or not, I most often caught myself humming along with them on the radio, then downloading a copy for the iPod, and wailing at the top of my lungs in the car.

10. “Runnin’ Outta Moonlight” – Randy Houser/“Don’t Ya” – Brett Eldredge

Interchangeable, but catchy. I don’t terribly love them, but I hear them once and I’m singing them all day long.

9. “We Were Us” – Keith Urban (feat. Miranda Lambert)

It reminds me of the Wes Mack song. The entire Keith Urban album, while it veers away from country more than any previous release, has a more innovative, unique sound. “Little Bit of Everything” was fun.

8. “That’s My Kind of Night” – Luke Bryan

Probably the biggest single of the year on country radio. If you listen to country, this was everywhere. It may be the worst song Zac Brown has ever heard, but it’s unrelentingly catchy. I resisted for as long as I could.

7. “Red” (Live at the 2013 CMA Awards) – Taylor Swift

6. “If I Didn’t Have You” – Thompson Square

5. “Slow Me Down” – Sara Evans

I wasn’t that hot for it the first time I heard it (are those strings in the intro? Probably not) but it grew on me.  It’s still not yet a big radio hit but I’ve heard it so much in my car, I’m ready for the next single.

4. “Wasting All These Tears” – Cassadee Pope

Downloaded it on a whim one day and fell in love. I can’t distinguish between her and the other girl that won The Voice who also has a new album out, but I know this song is great.

3. “Love Will” – Jennifer McCarter

Remember the McCarters? From the late 80’s? Jennifer visited WSM-AM last December for an interview, previewed this song and I downloaded it immediately.  It fell off the radar among the 3000 or so songs on my iPod so when it popped up again a while later I fell in love all over again. Simple, but gorgeous.

2. “Sunny and 75” – Joe Nichols

Fitting that it hits #1 in December. It’s been so cold and snowy lately, you HAVE TO sing along with it now.

1. “Go Rest High On That Mountain” (Live at George Jones’ funeral service) – Vince Gill & Patty Loveless

This is what country music is all about. Back in May I found this performance both devastating and unforgettable.

 

Honorable Mentions:
“Done.” – The Band Perry
“Hopeless Rose” – Sweethearts of the Rodeo
“Goodbye In Her Eyes” – Zac Brown Band
“It Goes Like This” – Thomas Rhett
“Did It For the Girl” – Greg Bates
“Easy” – Sheryl Crow

 

Non-Country Favourites:
“Roar” – Katy Perry
“Heart Attack” – Demi Lovato
“Your Body (Oxford Hustlers Radio Mix)” – Christina Aguilera
“Treasure” – Bruno Mars

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on December 21, 2013)

CLASSIC: American Country Awards 2013

Sara Evans, Justin Moore, Rhett Akins’ son (I just forgot his name). LeAnn Rimes!

There’s so much competition internally, within the record labels and the industry, to get the big names on the CMAs and the ACMs every year that it’s entirely refreshing to see second tier stars performing full songs, receiving a little national airtime.

This is only the fourth year for the American Country Awards, and I’ve avoided every year except for this one, and even now it’s just by whim that I’m watching. Genuinely surprised. Here all along I thought it was an also-ran award show created by a network that’s never invested in the country audience.

And yes, that’s what it is.  But it’s making the best of it.  Kellie Pickler. Randy Houser. Florida-Georgia Line not singing “Cruise.” But that Jake Owen song with the ZZ Top guy: I saw a tweet, during the CMA Awards when Eric Church sang his latest country rock song, that basically said current country stars aspire to music that sounds not like 80’s pop but full-on heavy metal, and it was in full evidence here.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m getting old and I’d have felt this way had I been this age when someone like Marie Osmond was hitting #1 with “There’s No Stopping Your Heart” back in the 80’s or whether there is a genuine shift in the sound of country music and we’ll never again hear acoustic music on the radio.

(This was originally posted on my previous site Critically Country on December 10, 2013)

CLASSIC: 2013 — the year the CMA became a helicopter parent

Nearly a week has passed and I’m trying to parse out the implications of “country’s biggest night.”  As I mentioned last year, the CMAs had traditionally been that organization that was the Oscars of country, that annointed the stars with awards that truly were prestigious because they were voted upon by the members of the industry.  A conservative voice, it has always struggled to balance defining the industry’s ambassadors to the greater entertainment industry versus bandwagon-ing the hot thing of the day — sometimes with the same award.

You look at the undeniable “crossover” superstars at the time of their Entertainer of the Year wins: Barbara Mandrell in 1980 and 1980 (during the height of Barbara Mandrell & the Mandrell Sisters TV show), Shania in 1999, Taylor Swift in 2009 and 2011.  Each was dubiously a “country music” star but certainly an ambassador the community could promote as its own.

So just like that parent that can’t always be around to take care of things, but swoops in to take care of the necessary things, the CMA acknowledged the across-the-board success of Florida-Georgia Line and spread the love with all those “Highway Don’t Care” awards, they managed too to pull back the reigns and honor — because that’s the word — George Strait with Entertainer of the Year.

It was right around the moment Eric Church turned the classy (albeit “new country”) music show into a 1980s heavy metal concert that I started to think, “I really want George Strait to win Entertainer.”  I’ll admit I have conservative tastes when it comes to country music but that performance, plus all that “Cruise” love was adding up to too much.  Check this and tell me what country music sounds like:

It really is the single most memorable moment from the evening for me, the way this unrelenting rock song just showed up and encapsulated the angst of every traditional country music fan.

The show was a huge success.  Most notable was the number of tweets for the evening: 1.6 million.  This is the last genre to experience any significant erosion of CD sales, back when everyone was downloading without paying.  Just a few years ago, it was one of the very few genres that saw any significant online presence.  The growth is spectacular and, as much as I hate to admit it, we have cross-pollinators like Eric Church to thank for it (if, in fact, we are thankful).  Notice the way the traditionalist country fans find their way into the conversation in live-tweets like this one from  Entertainment Weekly.

Back to the awards: along with the George Strait win, the CMA didn’t just let Kacey Musgraves’ six nominations be its own reward.  That New Artist win was deserving and it sent a message — to whom, I’m not sure (radio, maybe?) — that the voters were looking to acknowledge quality and possibly even attempt to influence the future of the genre.

I think Miranda Lambert’s fourth consecutive Female Vocalist win was more about matching Reba’s record than genuinely honoring her work this year.  The gossip around the Internet in the lead-up to this show was a rather consensus vote that Carrie Underwood deserved it, especially given her snub in the Entertainer of the Year category, where she was undoubtedly a contender.

Yet it was an enormously entertaining show.  The sound worked, the duelling stages — including the one in the audience — worked.  It was a show worth watching, love it or hate the winners.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on November 12, 2013)

CLASSIC: Gord Bamford “When Your Lips are So Close”

It doesn’t sound like a Gord Bamford song.  He co-wrote it with his producer Byron Hill and Nashville songwriter Brent Baxter, who recounts his behind-the-scenes journey to Gord and this recording brilliantly on his blog Man vs Row.

Gord Bamford sings country music, unquestionably.  His singles really just vary between honky-tonk uptempos (“Stayed ‘Til Two,” “Drinkin’ Buddy”) and slow heartfelt ballads (“Little Guy,” “My Daughter’s Father”).  And I’m sure the rest of the songs on the new album will hew closer to this path.  It’s available tomorrow, incidentally.

“When Your Lips…” works.  It’s left of centre, just enough to excite the fans and intrigue those who might not otherwise be interested; the perfect single to open an album.

Also: the lyrics in the hook makes sense if you substitute “your lips” for just “you,” though you still have to strain a bit.  He’s trying for a play on words, but they don’t quite fit.  The song is definitely about longing, and where it veers I think is regarding the frustration of wanting someone who’s right. over. there. but you still gotta get to know ’em.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on October 7, 2013)

CLASSIC: Mary Chapin Carpenter “House of Cards”

It’s poetry.

“When you dreamed it was of the wind
Blowing cold and hard
In those dreams you thought you lived
In a house of cards”

The first two verses are about the past. “I grew up in a house like this … I grew up in a town like this.” After the third verse it all changes.

“When we dream it’s of the wind
Blowing cold and hard
When we wake up we still live
In a house of cards”

Things are bad and even though we wish for better, it’s still as bad as it was when we were kids. The wind will always blow. Only now it’s our house and, much as we want to, we can’t seem to change it.

I was working at CKON, a radio station on the Akwesasne reserve when this song was new, and I was drawn in by the amped up guitar and drums which at the time were still an experiment on country radio.

This song turned out to be the start of the end for Mary Chapin Carpenter’s mainstream country career, ironically. The third single from the Stones In the Road album, it stalled at #21 on Billboard. It popped up on the iPod yesterday and, for the first time in years, I gave it a listen. Then another, and another, and I wondered how many other truly exceptional songs get lost in the shuffle, and never gain the exposure they deserve.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on September 22, 2013)

CLASSIC: Patty Loveless “Lonely Too Long”

It’s the first crisp, chilly morning of the season, and I’m driving alone down the highway with my iPod on shuffle.  The combination can present some powerful memories.

Living with a married couple in Nashville, I was just one year out of high school, and they were about to separate.  We lived in Bellevue, a community on the westernmost edge of town, in a big fancy expensive two-bedroom apartment just off the second-to-last exit of Davidson County on I-40.  The university Charlotte and I attended was near downtown, so it made for a lengthy drive each morning, and I can remember all the new music so vividly: Deana Carter’s Strawberry Wine, Leann Rimes’ One Way Ticket, Tim McGraw’s She Never Lets It Go to Her Heart, Vince Gill’sWorlds Apart.  They were all over the radio then.

Charlotte and I were instant friends when we met a year earlier.  All of 25 years old, she’d fallen for a boy with a pretentious name at our college who I didn’t find particularly attractive or interesting, and spent every moment with him, avoiding her husband John while he worked two full-time jobs to support the two of them.

In November we sat at a Waffle House not a mile from that new apartment complex that we’d moved into only a few months before.  Along with a mutual friend, Mary Beth, she told us of her plan to leave him.  Her reason, whatever it was, obviously didn’t ring true but, nonetheless, I figured because I was her friend and because I didn’t really know John that well it made sense that I leave too.  She scolded me, telling me I was being selfish by abandoning him, that he needed someone around.   Dumbfounded, I went home for the holiday a few weeks later and, when I returned, the lock on the front door to the big fancy expensive two-bedroom apartment had been changed.

I didn’t really get to know John until she moved out.  He told me he changed the locks because she’d left, and he was concerned she might take everything while he was at work, that my abandonment was unintended.  We sat on opposite sides of the bar in the kitchen, him facing the appliances and me looking out into the living room, and he told me he knew why she left.  Blunt but never cruel, he said he’d met with a counselor who told him I was the problem.

Wide-eyed, I stayed silent and let him continue.  He was working two jobs and was never around or available.  He knew all about Jefferson and resented him, and hated her for choosing him. “But I wonna winna’ back,” he said in his thick Australian accent.  It was admirable.

“I need to letta’ know this is owwa’ home.  So you can’t stay.”

We had a winding, great conversation about marriage, America, Australia, post-secondary education, country music.  He was obliging.  In my head I was so much younger than them, callow and self-interested so I took my time finding a new place, with unattached roommates this time on the opposite end of town.  It was a cheap, small, ground-floor two-bedroom apartment with a shared bath that we kept reliably filthy.  Dare I admit the weather was warming and spring on its way by the time I moved in.

So even though it’s one of thousands on my iPod and though I may skip over it every other time of year, today I repeated the song over and over on my way to Belleville on Hwy 401 this morning.  Somewhere in my mind I was 19 years old again, driving east on Harding Pike past Belle Meade, between Bellevue and Belmont University, inevitably late for class.

I can see exhaust from the cars before and around me evaporating into the chill of the fall and winter morning air.  John said he hated it because Charlotte sang it all the time, like she was trying to tell him something with it.  He said he understood now and I genuinely wished him well, but I was naive.  And he was too, so it turned out.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on September 17, 2013)

CLASSIC: 2013 CCMA Awards — Who should win

The Canadian Country Music Association Awards show is coming up tonight.  Here are the nominees and my considerations regarding who may (or should) win.

 

FANS’ CHOICE AWARD
Gord Bamford
Dean Brody
George Canyon
Terri Clark
Johnny Reid

 

Prediction: Johnny Reid

This would be his fifth consecutive win.  He performed in Kingston recently and the crowd was wild for him.  Very little can be called “country” about that set, what with the saxophone solos and poppy production, but it was a heck of a show.  I dare call this a slam dunk.

 

SINGLE OF THE YEAR
It’s Friday -Dean Brody feat. Great Big Sea
Jumped Right In – Dallas Smith
Leaning On A Lonesome Song – Gord Bamford
Main Street, 1979 – Deric Ruttan
Show Some Respect – Bobby Wills

 

Prediction: It’s Friday

The Gord Bamford song won the songwriter award last night, so there’s a good chance it could take this one too.  Voters would be wise to reward Deric Ruttan, though, who’s “Main Street, 1979” should’ve been nominated (and should’ve won) the songwriter award.  “It’s Friday” was just a great song, the kind you like to hear on the radio, a great “single.”

 

ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Classics II – George Canyon
Is It Friday Yet? – Gord Bamford
Jumped Right In – Dallas Smith
Roll – Emerson Drive
Small Town Pistols – Small Town Pistols

 

Prediction: Is It Friday Yet?

I’m going on pure instinct here.  Gord Bamford is reliably country and the voters should recognize that here.  Besides the album is chock full of hit songs.  Going down the list of remaining nominees: I can’t fathom an album of covers, with nary a Canadian song on it, winning this award.  Dallas Smith might (should?) be considered just a little too Default for country music voters, despite his string of hits from this CD.  Emerson Drive has a chance here; why, by the way, wasn’t “Let It Roll” (the Doc Walker duet that debuted on last year’s CCMAs) not nominated for anything?  It’s a love letter to the industry.  And while I love Small Town Pistols, aside from the Group/Duo category this is their only nomination.

 

CMT VIDEO OF THE YEAR
A Little More Work – Kira Isabella
Hope & Gasolinee – Beverley Mahood
I’m Movin’ On – Terri Clark feat. Dean Brody
Leaning On A Lonesome Song –Gord Bamford
Maybe You Remember Me Now – Hey Romeo

 

Prediction: Maybe You Remember Me Now

I haven’t seen a music video in years.  When I’m out of town I’ll turn on CMT for the noise if I can’t find a local radio station.  The director of “Maybe You Remember Me Now,” Stephano Barberis, won the video director award yesterday from the CCMA, so I’ll defer to that decision here.  A cursory glance at some of the nominees was pleasant enough.  The “Hope & Gasoline” video seemed particularly artful.

 

FEMALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Terri Clark
Jaida Dreyer
Kira Isabella
Carolyn Dawn Johnson
Michelle Wright

 

Prediction: Kira Isabella

She has the weight of the entire Sony Music Entertainment Canada organization supporting her.  No one else has that voting block.  Oh, and she’s had a really big year.  Leaping from Rising Star last year to this might be a stretch, but I live in a world where an organization like the CCMA should be annointing performers in categories like this one once they’ve reached a pinnacle.

 

MALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Gord Bamford
Dean Brody
Chad Brownlee
Dallas Smith
Bobby Wills

 

Prediction: Gord Bamford

Again, he’s reliable and I mean that in a good way.  Dean Brody is a really huge star, too, and I think he’ll clean up next year (with a new album due later this Fall).  I wouldn’t argue with a Bobby Wills win, though — as with Kira Isabella above — it seems a little soon.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if Dallas Smith took this award because the singles he’s released, even if they are a step too far left of “country,” have all caught fire at radio.

 

GROUP OR DUO OF THE YEAR
Emerson Drive
Hey Romeo
High Valley
Small Town Pistols
The Stellas

 

Prediction: High Valley

Hey Romeo has won this award the previous two years and yet, in my opinion, they still struggle when it comes to name recognition (and I loved “Maybe You Remember Me Now).  I just started paying attention to them after the win last year.  Emerson Drive always stand a good chance here, though their last win was in 2003.  High Valley took the Interactive Artist award yesterday from the CCMA and that alone is a good indicator.

 

RISING STAR
Autumn Hill
Tim Hicks
MacKenzie Porter
Tebey
Bobby Wills

 

Prediction: Tim Hicks

“Get By” was a super massively huge song this year.  He co-wrote it with both members of Florida Georgia Line plus THREE other people, so I’ll imagine it’s a mostly Nashville-written song and ironically not Canadian enough, therefore ineligible for any awards here.  If he performs it on the show, fans will be like “Uh, why aren’t we seeing more of HIM tonight?”  The song was that big.  Having said that, I love Autumn Hill and Bobby Wills had a great year too.  Tebey had a huge hit with “Somewhere in the Country” and MacKenzie Porter’s “I Wish I’d Known” is just gorgeous.   This is a really strong, competitive category, and it speaks well for the future of country music in Canada.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on September 8, 2013)