#1 Country Billboard Song for August 13, 2011

4 Aug

Zac Brown Band sits at the top of the country charts with a beach themed song called “Knee Deep,” which in typical Zac Brown fashion was written by Zac Brown and two guys in the band, Wyatt Durrete and Coy Bowles. But this time they enlisted the songwriting skills of Jeffrey Steele, who has written a number of songs, most notably “What Hurts the Most” for Rascal Flatts. For the recording of “Knee Deep” the band brought in the master of beach music, Jimmy Buffett, to do vocals with the group.

Although I do find this song to be relaxing and a fun summer song, I feel like Zac Brown has already over done the beach theme. With lines such as “I think I found my own kind of paradise,” I find “Knee Deep” to be very similar to their other #1 hits, “Toes” and “Free.”  Oddly enough it was almost exactly a year ago (August 10, 2010) to the date that Zac Brown reached number one with their carefree song “Free.” While all three of these songs have catchy melodies, I find their lyrics are very vague and don’t have much substance. In “Knee Deep,” Zac Brown hits the top of the chorus with “Wish I was knee deep in the water somewhere,” but doesn’t really put you in the scene. He brings in some imagery with lines such as “Only worry in the world  is the tide gonna reach my chair,” but then follows that with vague lines such as “Never been so happy, never felt so high.” I understand that these songs are just meant to be feel good summer songs, but they seem to be the song of the season and then quickly fade out.

Then there’s a song like “Margaritaville” that continues to stand the test of time. Thirty years after the song debuted, “Margaritaville” remains an extremely popular summer anthem. I think it has a lot to do with the lyrics. Buffett is so descriptive and really puts you in the scene. From the very beginning, where he says: “Nibblin on sponge cake, watching the sun bake, all of those tourists covered with oil,” you can just see Buffet sitting in the hot sun on the beach. Then, he takes us to Margaritaville with his lyrics and easy flowing melody. Lines like “Smell of shrimp they’re beginning to boil” and  “Blew out my flip flop, stepped on a pop top” appeal to the senses. And of course who can forget the singable hook, “Wastin’ away in Margaritaville, searching for my lost shaker of salt.”

So will “Knee Deep” stand the test of time and be a popular summer theme song 30 years from now? What do you think?

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Urban Dreamz the Main Act

31 Jul

After performing a few small gigs around Houston, Urban Dreamz landed its first main act slot on the West Gray Showcase at Hefley’s with The Wild Rabbit Salad Band opening the show. This slot came about after performing at the Hefley’s open mic in May 2011 where we impressed JW Wind, who runs the Showcase.  One evening in July, JW called and said, “Would you guys like to perform as the main act for a 45 minute set?” We accepted and starting building up our set list.

On Tuesday, July 26, we took the stage at 8:30 p.m. We were both a little nervous, but as we went through the set, we interacted with the audience and ended up putting on a great show, performing a variety of  cover songs which included Adelle’s “Rolling In the Deep,” a Tina Turner version of “Proud Mary,” and Pink’s “Perfect.” We finished off the set with a heartfelt rendition of Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now.”

Not only did we debut new cover songs, we also introduced  a few new original songs to the audience. One of them was an uptempo song called “Better Together,” which I wrote in 2010 with Beth Kille, a songwriter from Wisconsin. The song was not originally written as a duet, but once we started Urban Dreamz and were looking for songs it seemed to fit right in with our style and what we were looking for. So we reworked it to where we were singing lines back and forth to each other, sort of like a call and response. We also slowed it down with a passionate ballad written by my duo partner Aurelia Arredondo called “Shiny Weather.”

I think our first show as the main act at The West Gray Showcase turned out to be a success. We’re continuing to add songs to our set list and are working on more originals, so keep an eye out for updates on what’s next for Urban Dreamz as we pursue our musical dreams and do our best to entertain our audiences.

#1 Country Billboard Song for August 6, 2011

28 Jul

Chris Young slid  into the #1 slot this week with his new single “Tomorrow.” The song was written by Chris Young, Frank J. Myers, and Anthony L. Smith and is a traditional sounding country song with a slight contemporary feel. Chris Young has become a staple in the new sound of Country music over the past few years. With his strong deep voice, Chris brings something new to the genre while keeping the familiar country sound many fans have always loved. “Tomorrow” is the first #1 from his new CD, “Neon.” It follows the success of his debut CD, “The Man I Want to Be,” which produced 3 consecutive #1’s.

“Tomorrow’s” lyrics are very clever with lines such as “Tomorrow I’m gonna leave here…..but tonight I’m gonna love you like there’s no tomorrow” as he sings about a relationship that he thinks is not working out, but wants to give one more try before calling it quits. He talks about how they aren’t good for each other using unique phrases such as “We’re like fire and gasoline” as well as really bringing the point home with a simple two line bridge “Baby when we’re good, you know we’re great, but there’s too much bad for us to think, that there’s anything worth trying to save.”

Personally, Chris Young has become one of my favorites ever since he hit country radio in 2009 with “Getting You Home.” But the road to fame for Chris began in 2006, when he was declared the winner of Nashville Star. He released two singles that same year, but both barely got into the top 50. His third single, “Voices” in 2008, peaked at #37. But in 2009, he found his place in country music with #1’s such as “Getting you Home” and “The Man I Want to Be” and re-released “Voices,” which made it up the charts to #1 that time around. “Tomorrow” makes my list of songs to download. Does it make yours?

#1 Country Billboard Song for July 30, 2011

22 Jul

This week’s #1 country song proves that there are no genre distinctions when it comes to today’s popular music. What is it that really classifies a song as country, rock, pop, or even rap these days? Today’s artist are trying to reach out to fans from all genres and are blurring the distinctions that make each genre its own unique style of music that we’ve grown to love. Jason Aldean is doing just that with his current #1 song this week “Dirt Road Anthem,” which was written by Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert.

I love all of Jason Aldean’s music, such as “The Truth” and the rock anthem “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” but this song has me very torn. In this song about southern pride and country living, Jason throws in raps on the verses and then has very smooth country sound on the chorus. I am huge fan of most music, from rock and pop to country, so when they mix a little pop into country such as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood I love it, but mixing rap into country is a whole different story. I have nothing against rap, I just think that country and rap should not be mixed.

Matt Bjorke of Roughstock gave “Dirt Road Anthem” a 4.5 star rating, saying “Jason Aldean knows he’s not a rapper and this isn’t a style of music that he’ll continuously do…but as for a new song with a different sound, it certainly works.” (Source: Wikipedia) I sure hope this is not a trend that will catch on. I think people like all types of music and may even like country and rap, but when you are listening to country such as Jason, you want to hear country and when you’re listening to rap, like Kanye West, you want to hear rap. I think it’s a huge mistake to mix the two permanently, but if this is just a one time thing for Jason, maybe it was a good move on his part to bring him a new audience that never would have listened to country before.

Jason is not the first country artist to dabble in adding hip hop influences into country. Toby Keith’s singles “Getcha Some” and “I Wanna Talk about Me” had spoken parts that sounded a lot like rap. Other country artists that have experimented with rap are Trace Adkins and Sugar Land. What are your thoughts on this? I can’t decide if “Dirt Road Anthem”  is worth a download or not. I love Jason’s voice on the country parts, but I’m not too fond of the rap parts and feel like he is just speaking instead of actually singing and, as a result, the song loses all its momentum in my opinion.

American Idol goes County!

31 May

Scotty McCreery battled Lauren Alaina in the top 2 to become the second Country Artist to win American Idol. If you remember, back in 2005, Carrie Underwood took the  title after going up against Bo Bice and went on to become one of the best selling artist not only in country, but also in pop music. Will Scotty have the same longevity that Carrie has had? With his deep voice, he brings back the sounds of Randy Travis and Johnny Cash to country music. But, I believe Scotty is most comparable to Josh Turner, who has been very successful in the country genre over the last few years with songs such as “Your Man” and “Why Don’t We Just Dance.”

From  Scotty’s very first audition, the judges of American Idol knew there would be something special about this then 16-year-old. Judge Jennifer Lopez said “You made me smile” after his first a cappella performance of “Your Man.” Throughout the competition, Scotty sang a variety of country from classics like “Swinging” and “Always on My Mind” to brand new country like “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not.” He rocked every performance with his deep soulful voice, but is he versatile enough to be a million selling artist like Carrie Underwood?

During Carrie’s performances on Idol back in 2005, she showed her versatility by doing a very wide range of songs from rocking out Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” and Hearts’ “Alone, ” and putting all her emotion into songs such as “Independence Day” and “Piece of My Heart” She did her initial audition with “Could’ve Been” by Tiffany. So as you can see, even though Country is Carrie’s genre and where she feels comfortable, she really stretched her skills to prove to America that she could sing anything and make you believe it. You can still see this versatility in Carrie’s career today as she goes from singing the soft and emotional “Jesus Take the Wheel” to the angry “Before He Cheats” or “Temporary Home” to “Undo It.” Will we be able to say the same for Scotty McCreery?

Scotty’s first single, which he performed at the finale, will be “I Love You This Big.” Keep an eye out for it on your local country radio stations as we watch what Scotty will do.

This is just the beginning!

31 May

Urban Dreamz had a great turn out for our first performance at a small place called Hefley’s in Houston. We had 10 people from Spectra come out to happy hour before our performance telling them that the music started at 8 p.m. But at 7:30, the opening band started and played for an hour. They were very mellow and were  playing some classic country like Johnny Cash. Some of our fans were getting bored and restless. Then once the open mic actually started, we were third on the list, so there was still another 30 minutes of other performers. Finally at 9 p.m. we took that stage ready to rock it out.

We began our three song set with “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not” by Thompson Square, but as I strummed the first chords, the sound system was going in and out, so the guys running it came up and fixed it and we started, but before we got to the chorus it was going in and out again. But we fought our way through it and still got a great reaction from the audience.

For our second song, we decided to do an the original that got us to this venue. The song “Make it Up as We Go” was a song that I started with a co-writer, Sherry Brusso, and actually got to work on with her while we were in Nashville in March. Sherry is very set on writing a duet for the duo Steel Magnolia, so we set out to write a duo when I brought her the idea for this song. Little did I know, a few months later it would be perfect for our break out song as Urban Dreamz. The first time we performed it was at a Nashville Songwriters meeting where were getting it critiqued. It just so happened JW Wind was in the group and said “he was bobbing his head to it and could definitely see driving down the road to this song.” At the end of the presentation, he said “you guys come on out to my open mic at Hefley’s and bring some liveliness to it every Tuesday.”

Everyone loved the performance of our first original “Make it Up as We Go.” Then we ended our set by getting everyone up to their feet with our rendition of “Stuck Like Glue”!

After our performance we got so many compliments, but also got invited to open for an Indie Group called Prairie Cadets. They were so excited and mentioned more than one venue that we could open for them if we had a larger set of originals. So the challenge is on! Write great duet original songs and open for them sometime in the Fall. Stay tuned to see what Urban Dreamz is up to next.

Thanks for being a fan!

#1 Billboard Song for May 21, 2011

31 May

Sara Evans holds the #1 slot for the second week in a row with “A Little Bit Stronger,” which was written by Hillary Lindsey, Luke Laid, and Hillary Scott (Lady Antebellum). Since I already discussed this song last week. I figured I would flashback to the #1 song this week one year ago, five years ago, and ten years ago.

One year ago, on May 22, 2010, Chris Young held the #1 spot with “The Man I Want to Be”. This song was written by Brett James (“Jesus Take the Wheel”) and Tim Nichols (“Live Like You Were Dying”) and was Chris’ 2nd #1 song, his first being “Gettin’ You Home” in October 2009. I personally love this song and feel like it has a great message as the narrator asks God to help him become the man he wants to be. This song held the #1 spot for 3 straight weeks in May 2010.

Five years ago, on May 20, 2006, Jack Ingram found himself at the top of the charts with “Wherever You Are,” which was written by Steve Bogard (“Carrying Your Love with Me”) and Jeremy Stover. The song was originally intended to be recorded by Canadian country music artist Deric Ruttan, as well as the band Rushlow, but in 2005 it found its way to Jack Ingram and became his first top 40 hit as well as his first #1 hit and the first #1 hit for Big Machine Record Label. But for Jack, the road to that first #1 began a decade earlier in 90’s when he toured Texas, opening for acts such as Mark Chestnut. His first album was self-titled and released under Rhythmic label in 1992, followed by Lonesome Question in 1995, both producing no singles. In 1997, under Rising Tide Records, he had his first charting single “Flutter,” which peaked at #51 on the billboard charts. Two years later with another new label, Lucky Dog, a division of Epic Records, he charted with “How Many Days,” which only reached #64. In 2005 he finally found his record label home with Big Machine Records, which lead to his first #1 song, “Wherever you Are”.

Ten years ago, on May 19, 2001, Brooks & Dunn sat at the #1 spot with “Ain’t Nothing ‘Bout You.” This fun loving upbeat song was written by Rivers Rutherford (“When I Get Where I’m Going”) and Tom Shapiro (“No Place that Far”) and was named the #1 Country song of 2001 by Billboard, as well as nominated for the Country Music Association for Song of the Year.

Hope you enjoyed going back in time with me to examine these great country song.

#1 Country Billboard Song for May 14, 2011

9 May

This week, Sara Evans claims the #1 country slot with “A Little Bit Stronger,” which was written by Luke Laird, Hillary Lindsey and Hillary Scott (Lady Antebellum). One of the first times I heard this song was in the movie “Country Strong” and even though Gwenyth Paltrow’s song “Country Strong” is the theme song for this movie, it was “A Little Bit Stronger” that resonated more with me.

This song is very well constructed and is a powerful and emotional song. It’s a story about getting through a tough breakup and getting “a little bit stronger” everyday. My favorite line in the song is “I turned on the radio / Stupid song made me think of you, I listened to it for a minute / But then I changed it”) clearly stating that the things around her still remind her of him everyday but she’s getting stronger every day. I also love the simple phrase “Doesn’t happen overnight” giving comfort and hope to anyone in that situation to continue powering through.

Here are a few other people’s opinions on this song compiled on Wikipedia:

Blake Boldt of The 9513 gave the song a thumbs up, complimenting the song’s “flourishes of steel and piano” and the “authentic, organic vocal.”

Matt Bjorke of Roughstock gave the song 4 stars out of 5, complimenting the song’s lighter production and Evans’ vocals, which he felt “wring every bit of emotion out of the lyrics that chronicle a woman’s ability to move on after a long relationship ends.”

Kevin John Coyne of Country Universe awarded the song a C rating, stating that the song could’ve been better “with a stronger melody and a more refined concept.” He also compared it unfavorably to her previous singles, “Fool, I’m a Woman,” “Cheatin’,” and “Shame About That.”

This song has a very simple message and basic structure, but really hits home with both men and woman alike. I think Sara Evans and the writers have set the bar for what a #1 Country song should be. This is Sara Evans’ first single in 5 years and her first #1 song since 2005 when” A Real Fine Place to Start” took the #1 spot for two weeks.

All three of the writers on this song have had their share of #1 songs as well. In 2010, Luke Laird shared a few #1 hits including “Undo it” and “Tempoary Home,” both by Carrie Underwood, and “Hillbillie Bone,” by Blake Shelton and Trace Atkins. Hillary Lindsey is probablly best known for “Jesus Take the Wheel,” by Carrie Underwood, but has had too many #1’s to count including “Just a Dream”, “So Small”, “Unstoppable”, “Blessed” and “American Honey.” The third writer, Hillary Scott, better known as a third of the group Lady Antebellum, has seen the #1 spot along with her Lady Antebllum partners with songs such as “Need You Now”, “I Run to You” and “Our Kind of Love.”

Let me know your thoughts on “A Little Bit Stronger” by Sara Evans. I consider it worthy of a download.

#1 Country Billboard Song for May 7, 2011

9 May

I’ve been very fascinated studying the Top Country Billboard songs, both as a songwriter myself and as a country music lover. Sometimes I wonder what really gets a song up to that glamorous #1 spot each week. As a songwriter, these are songs that I am looking to and pursuing as I follow my dream to that #1 spot.

Kenny Chesney’s “Live a Little” found its way to #1 for the week of May 7, 2011 and was written by David Lee Murphy and Shane Minor. I find that this song has a message that people can relate to, but doesn’t say it in a unique way. I find nothing fresh or new about this idea of “stressed out running late…..I need to live a little, have a little fun” It’s very vague with no real story line and no real hook that grabs you. The guitar intro sounds cool for a few bars, but gets annoying after listening the same lick over and over again. This is all just my opinion, but this is not a song that I would run out and download and I feel like in a month from now, no one will even know what song this is, so why is this song worthy of the #1 song in the country?

I’m not the only one that feels this way about this song. Here are few critics from Wikipedia who agree:

“Giving the single a “thumbs down”, Karlie Justus of The 9513 thought that Chesney’s singing sounded disinterested; she also thought that its subject matter was too similar to other songs of his, and that it had a very similar melody to his 2005 single “Keg in the Closet.”

Kevin John Coyne of Country Universe gave the song a C grade, saying that the song starts with a “pure pop/rock intro” and then transitions into acoustic country but eventually “disintegrates to generic Chesney: loud but not assertive, cute but not clever, upbeat but not uplifting.”

Here is what countrycharttalk.com had to say about the song: “Live a Little,” the third single from Kenny’s current album Hemingway’s Whiskey, is a safe and predictable up-tempo with a simple message:  “Live a little, love a lot…. Have some fun.”  Sound familiar?  Possibly because half of Kenny’s hit catalog trumpets that same message?  Or because the melody sounds like a carbon copy of “Keg In the Closet”?

Ok so let’s look at the positive side. Roughstock.com said about the song: “It starts out with a compressed sketch of work-induced stress, followed by a simple “I gotta get my priorities straight” that sounds just about as honest and real as can be. From that, we get an equally simple chorus about living a little, having fun and a second verse about fun on a Friday night. Maybe a couple of the details are things you’ve heard in a Kenny Chesney song before (yes, even a single line about the beach), but they don’t feel like a mere rehash.”

So as you can see, most of the reviews are negative, so why do country music listeners and country music radio love this song so much that it shot up to that number one spot? Is it the familiar melody? The simple message of live a little and have some fun? Or is it just because it’s Kenny Chesney’s signature sound and performance? What do you think?

Urban Dreamz

29 Apr

In January 2011, I started a new adventure with my music, a duo called “Urban Dreamz.” It all began with a Spectra Energy Rodeo event. For 2 years I shared a cubicle wall with Aurelia Arredondo, who has become a great friend over the years at Spectra Energy.
When the calling came out to sign up for the annual rodeo events at work, she said we should sing a duet for the singing contest. At this point I knew she sang, but I didn’t think she was serious about pursing a music career until we started practicing together.

Urban Dreamz

Our first practice was held in the stairwell of Spectra. We chose the song “Need you Now” by Lady Antebellum and spent a few weeks singing it over and over to prepare for our debut performance. While we worked on the song, we also needed to come up with a name for our duo. That was an interesting few days as we passed ideas back and forth on IM and text messages. After coming up with dozens of names,  we decided to combine our influences. I said I liked Keith Urban and she said she like Alicia Keys. So we tried Urban Keys, but that didn’t fit us. Then she mentioned the song “Sweet Dreams” and the name of our duo came to life, “Urban Dreamz.”

On February 24, 2011, we made our debut at the Spectra Energy Rodeo event. Our coworkers showed their support and went all out making posters with our pictures on it and cheering  us on.  They all knew that I sang from previous rodeo events, but they had never heard Aurelia sing, so they were all excited and said we sounded great together. It was a great show and that’s when we decided we should pursue it further. So we started working on a set list to actually perform out around Houston.

Here is out debut performance:

We have since set up a Facebook fan page at:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Urban-Dreamz/134418299964877#!/pages/Urban-Dreamz/134418299964877

Come join us us on Facebook to get updates about what to expect from this hot new duo based in the Houston area.