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Thread: "Cry Pretty" Carriefans User Reviews

  1. #1
    Insane Carrie Fan twaintrain's Avatar
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    "Cry Pretty" Carriefans User Reviews

    Since the Cry Pretty Era thread has almost anything and everything related to the album, our reviews can get lost. I thought it would be nice to have our reviews of the album in one place. If you placed a review in the other thread you can put it here too.

  • #2
    Insane Carrie Fan twaintrain's Avatar
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    My review of Cry Pretty after living with it for a week…


    Cry Pretty – This has joined the ranks of “Jesus Take The Wheel” and “Something In The Water” as one of Carrie’s best first singles. The fact that Carrie, along with the Love Junkies, was able to take her heartbreak and turn it into this anything-but-typical heartbreak ballad is an accomplishment in and of itself. It seems to be a universal message among women (as evidenced by my mother’s reaction the first time I played it for her). The blend of country and rock. The build from the fragile first verse and vocal to the powerful ending vocals. It all just works. The last minute is pure gold as Carrie lets out all her emotion in the best way she can – by belting it. A unique but perfect way to start off the album.

    Ghosts On The Stereo – This reminds me of a mix of “My Church” by Maren Morris and “Two Ghosts” by Harry Styles, which is totally my style. It introduces a sound that I have been wanting Carrie to dabble in for a while. It is probably the most laid-back song on the album, but it totally works. It’s the kind of song you want to listen to on a record player with the lights down low.

    Low – Simply put, “Low” is a masterpiece. I love the beginning sparse guitar and the emotional, quiet vocal lamenting lyrics reminiscent of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams. As soon as the first words are sung, you can tell you are in for something special and it does not disappoint. The slow burn builds to what I believe are Carrie’s most passionate and powerful vocals she has ever laid down on record. Vocals so real and raw they can make you cry. “Low” is a masterclass. “Low” is a gift. “Low” is my pick for the best song on Cry Pretty.

    Backsliding – The first time I heard “Backsliding” I thought ‘Carrie’s doing her version of Sam Hunt,’ and I think it’s a pretty fair assessment. The mix of R&B in country is very hot right now and I can definitely see how Carrie could capitalize on this. From the snippets I was afraid I would not care for this song, but I was proven wrong upon the first full listen. Even though the chorus may not appear “catchy” upon first listen, it has definitely the power to get stuck in your head. I now think it’s a very strong song.


    Southbound – Definitely Carrie’s answer to ‘bro-country’. This song is just plain fun. The mix of country guitars with pop production just works. Hopefully coming to radio summer 2019.

    That Song That We Used To Make Love To – This song caught me off guard. Carrie’s vocals on the verses are passionate and incredible and I am loving the old school R&B vibe. Never heard her like this before. The chorus is probably the catchiest thing Carrie has ever recorded. Of all the songs on the album, this is the one I catch myself singing the most. Nothing here but fun and ear-candy. Love it!

    Drinking Alone – Another soulful, passionate vocal. I love the brassy way she insists “Let me make one thing clear, you can buy me a beer, but you ain't taking me home”. I can definitely see why some have compared this to a modern “Before He Cheats,” it has everything working for it to become a massive hit. This is another favorite of mine, probably second behind “Low”. Definitely hoping it’s single number 3.

    The Bullet – Beautifully written, beautifully sung. “The bullet keeps on going” is such a powerful lyric. What I love about this song is that it’s not some political statement. People on both sides of the aisle can relate to this song. It’s about the lives affected. I honestly think she could release this to radio and it would be a hit.

    Spinning Bottles – This song is pure emotion. You can definitely feel the ‘realness’ in this song and tell that this has hit home for the writers. Again, another side of Carrie we’ve never seen. The raw vocal and stripped down production is a welcomed change from the highly produced sound we are used to hearing from Carrie.

    Love Wins – After an album full of songs (mostly heartbreak) that can definitely be considered ‘new for Carrie,’ this is classic, positive Carrie. As uplifting as the day is long, to me, this song does suffer a little due to over-production and lyrics that tread on clichéd. However, the pure joy and conviction felt from Carrie’s vocals make up for it. It puts a smile on my face and was tailor-made for a sing-along.

    End Up With You – This song is today’s pop with just a tinge of twang. In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine someone like Justin Bieber recording this. This song is just light and airy, fun and sexy. Definitely threw me a little upon the first listen but now I really like it and can’t help singing along.

    Kingdom – As Carrie said, this is the most personal song on the album. As such, you can tell from the emotional vocals that it means a lot to her which endears it to me. I have mixed feelings on how the song closes because I love the way Carrie lets it fly on the last section but I do wish there wasn’t quite so much production. Overall though, I still love the song.

    Cry Pretty is definitely Carrie’s best album to date. There’s not a skippable song on the whole record. I am hoping they release a long line of singles.
    judes, teesharky, liz278 and 11 others like this.

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    Obsessed Carrie Fan carriefan14's Avatar
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    1. Cry Pretty - I love this song, especially on days that I'm depressed and stressed out. I love how Carrie goes off at the end, especially the "whooo hoooo" parts. It's going to be a great stadium song for the tour next year. I only wish the public had responded more strongly to it, because it really is okay to show your emotions.


    2. Ghosts on the Stereo - really glad this made it on the record. The visual imagery is so awesome on this song. The sadness and the kind of rebellious side come out. It's like, you broke up with me, but you know what - i'm okay. Carrie has always sounded very strong on songs in this nature. It feels like it would have been perfect on Storyteller.

    3. Low - i was not sure about Low at first; wasn't sure if it had enough substance and people might pass over it. However, weeks later I think it's actually one of the best songs not only on Cry Pretty, but in Carrie's career. I hope they do something with it. This is a "rock bottom" song, and Carrie went there with it. She is the female vocalist of her generation: here's why.

    4. Backsliding - Interesting. I love the little sounds you can pick up in it if you listen closely. At the beginning, there's muffled voices talking, a man and a woman. I love the auditory aesthetics in the song, the modern country-R/B sound. Dont really care for the storyline, a little cliche in my opinion, but still her vocals are pleasing to the ear. I love the album as a whole so far.


    5. Southbound - a fun song, if you feel like having fun. But i dont feel like having fun. We've already heard One Way Ticket by Carrie. Next.


    6. That Song That We Used to - dang! Carrie really went there! I love it, it's so cute. I think people will be pleasantly surprised. It's still pop without going vulgar. It's catchy but not annoying. And it gets stuck in your head. Cute, cute, cute. Thumbs up.

    7. Drinking Alone - i love how the lyrics get so confused, like should we or shouldn't we. We should...no, we shouldn't. Very cute and clever. As if she is actually drinking as she's singing. Then those powerful, angry BHC vocals at the end. Girl! Tell that story. Love how Carrie can suck us into the stories.


    8. The Bullet - i want to like it. I think it's a great idea for a country song. But i wish the vocal delivery had been more delicate and emotional than it was, and I thought it was too much production and instruments. If they had gone for a quieter, more raw production and raw vocals it would have packed a mean punch. However as it is, i think a lot of people will pass over it. Lovely words, very sad song...but i wanted to feel it more, just couldn't. I'm sorry!


    9. Spinning Bottles - love it. The violins (i think those are) in the background, the moment where she hesitates (this ain't a game...nobody wins. Yeah, that bottle spins, again and again.) Love that. Seriously heartbreaking material. If only The Bullet had packed that kind of punch. Love to see a video to this. Or just a live take. The instrumentation sounds hopeless, like you know the cyclewill just keep spinning and no happy ending is going to come. Gets me right in the heart. Darn you, Carrie. I love you.


    10. Love Wins - At the end of the day, when truth is all truth - we really, really are all brothers and sisters. We're all human beings. I love this message and i hope it helps people. I hope people will treat each other a little better. I hope that it touches hearts. We need it to. The world is a very hard place now.


    11. End Up With You - a very cool song. It's an experiment gone right. Carrie sounds very modern and in with the cool kids here. I could see it on pop radio. I dont think it will be a big hit, but it was fun to play around with a new sound and see what else is out there.


    12. Kingdom - It feels very personal for Carrie, which is great, but maybe too personal. I didnt really care for the over production. Honestly i just skip it.

    13. The Champion - i wore this song out in February, so i dont really listen to it anymore. It was cool to have Ludacris on it. Glad it happened. Moving on.


    Overall, i love the album and i appreciate the risks she took, even if not all of them worked out. I think everyone can find their own favorites and least favorites, so that's good. I hope we get really strong singles. We will see.

  • #4
    Insane Carrie Fan lizcarlo's Avatar
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    Cry Pretty: I have really liked this song since first hearing it. For me personally it's so relatable. Really like the lyrics. Her voice is so beautiful from her low notes to the head voice. Adore everything about this song. This is still my favorite lead single. It's so relatable to me because I've always been such introvert who "not usually one to show my heart to the world/ I'm pretty good at keeping it together/ I hold my composure for worse or for better/ you can pretty lie and say it's okay/you can pretty smile and just walk away/ pretty much fake your way through anything". I love that Carrie wrote song for me to relate to in that way. Not a lot of songs do.

    Ghosts On The Stereo: Its a fantastic song. Loved that she used her low part of her voice. She does nice tribute to our dearly departed country legends on her style.

    Low: This is such incredible song. Lyrics are so so amazing. That voice! The way she sings seems to be blend of old way country artists use to sing with her own style is emotional and beautiful. I love the Hank Williams influence/reference like the way she sings "I'm so ooh oh ooh oh lonesome for you" and "whippoorwill".

    Backsliding: Its perfect country pop. It's so catchy with amazing lyrics and of course voice to match. It's so relatable for anyone who has/is backsliding with an ex. It's so catchy.

    Southbound: This is such fun song. It's so much fun to sing to. It would be perfect for summer or background music for family cookout. I can see this being anthems during summer.

    That Song We Use To Make Love To: This song was awesome unexpected surprise. Its so catchy and sensual. I really like it. Production and everything is so perfect. I didn't know I wanted this from Carrie until I heard this song :-)

    Drinking Alone: I am so happy Carrie is doing another soulful country song. I like that she did another different soulful country flavor (CCA being more swampy). She does it so well. This song is no exception. She wrote and produced it so well. Love hear her use her voice this way. It's such perfect bar song.

    The Bullet: This song is so amazing. It's such real sad song that pulls out the tears. I like how it's about the everyday emotional effects and how it creates ripple effects of a life lost in the long run. Some of the lyrics reminds me of something loved one would think like for example "every birthday that he'll never see/ every chance to live a good life that was stolen". It's so emotional. I'm glad Carrie choose to sing it.

    Spinning Bottles: Everything on the song is so well done. It's stripped down to perfection. It's so clever how "spinning bottles" is used to say he drinks a lot. Lyrics are incredible anyway. The way she sings is so emotional and stunning. It's such tear jerker. I loved it when listening to clip. I still do. I hope it's a single or at least song sang at big awards/event.

    Love Wins: I think it's still pretty good. This song is so Carrie.

    End Up With You: I really like this song. It's such dreamy, flirty, light hearted sweet song. Like the layering of her voice. The way she sings is so sweet and pretty. It's such sing a long sweet type of song.

    Kingdom: This is such special song. Carrie love for family is beautiful. The lyrics are so Carrie (you can tell Carrie wrote this song for her family) and amazing. You can feel that her family truly is her kingdom. Everything about the song is incredible. It's perfect closer for the album.

    If you want Champion as closer and not bonus song it would actually fit at the end to say she is still strong aka champion after all the pain she went through. I like the Champion but I'll keep it as bonus. I love Kingdom as closer.


    I don't cry easy. Carrie knows how to pull the tears out of me. The songs flows well. I like how Carrie started (Cry Pretty) and ended (Kingdom) with songs that's was directly relatable in her personal life. Cry Pretty being first song works well because it's like her saying this is me raw and real. Ghosts On The Stereo being after Cry Pretty makes sense considering its meaning. I also like how "Low" had Hank Williams reference came after "Ghosts On The Stereo". Southbound lightening up the mood for That Song. Southbound was too much of fun party song to come before the two emotional heavy hitters. Drinking Alone was perfect mood switcher for emotional heart wrenching songs The Bullet and Spinning Bottles. Love Wins was well placed. The Bullet and Spinning Bottles is so heavy with emotion there needed to be song to lighten the mood for end of album. Love Wins was perfect for it and to have good message. End Up With You is so sweet that it's so well placed before Kingdom. Kingdom being at the end is kind of like Carrie saying after all the emotion her family is her kingdom and source of strength.

    Carrie writing is top notch. Her singing in different ways is so gorgeous. This was such good blend of country, pop, country pop and R&B/soul. The Bullet, Spinning Bottles, Low and The Kingdom gave me chills. After listening to it more I can easily say it's one of her top albums for me. Cry Pretty is such fantastic album. I like that Carrie got more personal, sang about real life stuff ect.. I think singing about real world problems is so underrated. Love that Carrie choose TB and wrote SB. I like that Carrie cares about having songs about stuff people go through in this world. Anyway love Cry Pretty album.

    I know this is long but really like this album.
    oldyfan, Farawayhills, Hil and 1 others like this.

  • #5
    Ultimate Carrie Fan Farawayhills's Avatar
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    This album represents Carrie's first formal role as producer (although there have been indications that she frequently discussed production and made suggestions before. Here she shares production with David Garcia, a relatively new connection, that evolved from songwriting together. Although Garcia has had some recent connection with Mainstream Country, his main experience has been in Pop and Contemporary Christian Music, enabling him to bring mixed influences, and probably relatively few genre preconceptions, to the production desk. Many of the songs do strike me as having a definite "Carrie" feel, and I think she has made considerable use of the freedom her co-producer role has given her to innovate and express herself in a variety of ways. What I believe is likely to have been of considerable help to Carrie in expressing musically the styles she wante to develop, and in giving much of the album an overall cohesion is the continuity of key musicians. Throughout her major label career, Carrie has shown a marked tendency to use the same session players on substantial parts of her albums. Her favoured rhythm section, of Chris McHugh on drums and Jimmie Lee Sloas on bass, have appeared on every one of her albums, as has electric guitarist, Tom Bukovac, and although the same combination is not heard on every track, it is on the majority. Other players, such as multi string specialist, Ilya Toshinskyi, and flatpicking acoustic guitarist, Bryan Sutton, are also well known from several earlier apperarences. This tends to give rise to a situation in which she knows and trusts the musicians, and they are pretty familiar with her singing styles. A number of other specialist players also make a strong contribution, and the combinations show that the two producers have been prepared to put considerable effort into musical planning and innovation. This has resulted in a situation in which the music and the vocal lines seem particularly to complement each other, and, for me, this remains apparent even when bold and complex production is being employed. One result is that I find that Carrie's exceptional vocal talent often comes across with more variety and clarity than ever.

    The two albums with which I'd be most inclined to compare this one are "Storyteller" and "Some Hearts". "Storyteller" is an easy comparison, since I think this album noticeably builds on directions which Carrie was already exploring on its predecessor. In that category I'd place the willingness to explore more personal and intimate themes, the desire to push some songs in a deeper Country stylistic direction, and the Pop-leaning experiments in other songs. All those trends occurred, to some extent, in earlier work - but I feel it is in the two most recent albums that they find a fuller expression - a sign of Carrie's greater maturity and confidence, and perhaps willingness to explore areas she chooses, with relatively less concern for the expectations of outside interests.

    The comparison with "Some Hearts" may be less obvious, but I mention it for two reasons. Firstly, both albums have a group of standout songs that are stylistically different from other parts of the album, and which I consider to be among Carrie's best work. The four Country singles from "Some Hearts" were largely responsible for winning her critical acclaim and her early spate of award wins at the Country trade shows, and it was only later, with lighter songs such as "Last Name" and "All American Girl" that some of that support moved away from her, notwithstanding her continued commercial success. I believe there is a block of songs on "Cry Pretty" which, if they receive sufficiently wide exposure, could restore her earlier reputation.

    The second reason is that both "Some Hearts" and "Cry Pretty" appear to be aimed at a mixed audience - probably to a greater extent than the intervening albums, which, while varied, stemmed from a situation in which Carrie's career seemed securely focused on a prominent position within Mainstream Country radio. "Some Hearts" came at a time when that position was not secure, and her reputation as a Country singer of note had to be established, while, at the same time keeping faith with the more mixed audience which had encountered her on "American Idol". In the case of "Cry Pretty", Carrie is arguably also at something of a career turning point, since gaining a wider international audience is one of the stated objectives of her move to a new label group - which, by definition, means, to some extent, looking beyond Mainstream Country radio. I think it would probably be a mistake to over-emphasize that point, because much of the album has the feel of being personal to Carrie, expressing what she wants to say, as an individual and as an artist, rather than simply being targeted to particular tastes. But, nevertheless, the potential audiences for different types of song do seem to have been taken into account,

    (The bonus track, "The Champion", is the only one with a different producer, Jim Jonsin, and, while the new direction it explored, and the interest and popularity it aroused, justified its album place as an extra, because of its very different origins and purpose, I've not included it in this album review)

    CRY PRETTY

    This title track, and lead single was co-written with the three Love Junkies, who also provided one of the most memorable (and emotional) songs, "Like I'll Never Love You Again", on Carrie's last album. This one sets the scene for the new album, by emphasizing some of the developments in production, vocal delivery, and more personal themes that Carrie is experimenting with. The first minute is a slow, stark and emotional statement of feelings, accompanied by a sparse arrangement that creates a sense of foreboding. This is probably one of the longest passages of quiet vocal development that Carrie has used, and is very effective in identifying the raw sense of dichotomy between an artist's inner feelings, and the expectations of glamour that her public role insists on. It's followed by a bursting out of Carrie's well known power singing. Inevitably, perhaps, this section seems less innovative, but it serves to reassure the many listeners who principally identify with this style that it is still an important part of her stylistic range. It is in three quarter time, evoking the traditional Country Waltz feel - a reminder that Carrie likes to combine striking modern arrangements with touches that still pay homage to older styles. What I find becomes particularly impressive and unusual about the later development of the song is that both the music and the voice continue to build up into an increasing sense of chaos and despair, in which the lyric sometimes melts into a wordless wail. This is very effective in expressing the theme of the song that, regardless of appearances, an artist might be almost overwhelmed by her own inner feelings, that can arise from matters quite beyond the artificiality of her stage role. In that sense I would regard this song as one of four on the album that deal with topical issues: the demands of the entertainment world (here); substance abuse ("Spinning Bottles"); empathy with victims of gun violence ("The Bullet", and "Love Wins"); political division and prejudice ("Love Wins"). Carrie has addressed social issues before ("Temporary Home", "Change" and "Nobody Ever Told You" being earlier examples), but "Smoke Break" on the previous album, and the four songs on this one, represent a definite development in both depth and emphasis


    GHOSTS ON THE STEREO

    Sadly one of the writers, Andrew Dorff, passed away shortly before Christmas, 2016, at the early age of 40, and this remarkable song must serve as one of his memorials.

    I have seen some criticism that Carrie, a leading Mainstream singer, may have chosen this song as a "nod" to evoke a nominal allegiance to traditional singers whose work runs counter to her own - but that criticism strikes me as missing the whole point, in two important senses. One is that Carrie, although a contemporary singer, who draws on a mix of influences (something which, if we're honest, we should admit has happened throughout the genre's history), she does show a persistent and marked loyalty to her place in the genre (something she would have had numerous opportunities to reject), and does take more trouble than many contemporary chart artists to include specific references to the genre's traditions in much of her own work. Hating on the Mainstream is often understandable (I share that emotion often enough myself!), but singling out Carrie as the symbolic target is far from identifying the worst offender. The second reason is contained in the song itself - the character is described as going through a separation, but finding solace in listening to recordings of past heroes. The point is that the party mood described is imaginary - it seems like a haunted house, with just one car in the drive. But the singer finds her company in identifying with the timeless mood of the songs she recalls. Far from being a "nod" to a set of names, connecting with the stream of emotion those singers represent is the whole point of the song.
    And we should not miss the significance of the guest artists brought in to supplement Carrie's more usual session players. Holly Williams is Hank's granddaughter, and Ben Haggard is Merle's son. Steel player Steve Hinson often worked with George Jones. These people didn't need to appear, and the fact that they did is consistent with my own experience - years ago, I was persuaded to look up Carrie's work by remarks made by women singers in Roots Country who admired her. The reality is that she often gets more respect from artists in that sector than from some of the more partisan critics.
    "Ghosts on the Stereo" is one that I find to be among the most memorable tracks on the album. I like the concept, find the music interesting with the slow build up, and the sequence of notes that keeps recurring through the changing background. And Carrie's vocal conveys the mood well, knowing when to draw out the emotion, and when to emphasize the sense of recovery, showing enough power singing, without going over the top, in a song that might be spoilt by too forceful a delivery,

    LOW

    A standout track, with some of the best lyrics, and one of the best vocal performances of Carrie's career - this is a singing style that I would hope Carrie will continue to develop. Coming after the last song, this track clearly reflects the influence of Hank Williams' landmark album "Moanin' The Blues", both in the general singing style, and in the lyrical references to the whippoorwill and to lonesome, which recall the track, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", often considered his lyrical masterpiece. However, I would also point to possible influence from Bill Mack's 1958 song "Blue", both in the drawn out vowel wail, and in the specific wording "so lonesome for you". Williams' album (which has influenced generations of Country singers, especially in the more Roots-leaning sectors) came out in 1952, but was really a collection of singles dating from 1947 onwards - so in drawing on these two influences, Carrie is probably reaching back 60 to 70 years in the genre's history. But nothing stands still, and this is not just a derivative track - the strong percussion that breaks in, and the electric guitar work of Danny Rader and Rob McNelly add notable modern progression to the arrangement.
    Since the album came out, Carrie has revealed that she suffered three miscarriages in the years since her last album. There is a prevailing sadness in several songs on this album, but some of those seem to involve broken relationships, or other issues affecting people in general - "Low", though, strikes me as one of the most personal, in which Carrie may have focused particularly on her own feelings. The line "Everything that was right is wrong, ever since baby you've been gone" seems especially poignant, in light of what has since been revealed, and may go beyond the more superficial interpretation of a departed lover. And it is interesting that Hillary Lindsey plays acoustic guitar on this song. She has sung on every one of Carrie's albums, but just playing seems new - it is tempting to interpret this as a friend, who was with her in the writing session, accompanying her while she tracked her vocals, to support her on what may have been a difficult song for her to sing.

    BACKSLIDING

    In my opinion, this song could be a strong launchpad for a thrust into the UK General Music market. It demonstrates the advantages to Carrie of taking control of her own production, since it enables her to use a multi-layered arrangement to create a song that seems to transcend genre, in a way that ties together varied modern elements, without sacrificing an underlying Country feel. Dan Dugmore's pedal steel glides through the song, giving it a haunting, timeless quality. And there is an interesting lyrical point, that I think reinforces the sense of the song bridging a transition through time for Carrie herself. She uses a line which is almost a doublet for a line in the very first Country song she recorded after "American Idol" - Gretchen Peters' "Independence Day". The line in the older song (on which Gretchen herself played strings for Carrie's recording) was "Word gets around in a small, small town", and the line Carrie uses here is "word gets around in such a small town". That close resemblance seems unlikely to be accidental, and suggests to me that Carrie might be using it to emphasize that this album too is a new turning point in her career. Her vocal line in the verses comes across as particularly clear and expressive, not swamped by the complex, but relatively light, musical production. It is combined with choruses that bring in an element of her signature power vocal, and allow her to express the sense of desperation and inevitability in the repetition of the word "Backsliding". The background vocals (where Carrie joins her co-writers Hillary and David, in tracking her own voice) are an interesting element, which adds mood to the song, and Bryan Sutton's melodic riff gives it a perfect finish.

    SOUTHBOUND

    While the more memorable songs on this album lean towards sadness and retrospection, this track breaks that mood with a nod towards the prevailing Mainstream liking for party songs. That may increase its appeal to radio, and to listeners seeking a lighter, upbeat song to balance the more serious tracks. Those considerations may justify its inclusion, but for me, this is a disappointing song, which seems an ill fit for the mixture of progressive innovation and deep genre references that characterize the album as a whole. It is Carrie's second venture into "getaway" songs, but in my opinion, her earlier "One Way Ticket" showed a greater individuality, having more of the feel of a parody, and a touch of defiance in telling the boss to "stick it". By contrast, I feel that "Southbound" seems too accepting of "bro country" conventions of parties, boys catching the eye of pretty girls, tan lines and outdoor dancing. The music seems to include a slight Louisiana Cajun influence, but that strikes me as virtually the only concession to variation, in a rather obvious pitch to an arguably over-used Mainstream sub-genre. Carrie has always enjoyed some fun songs - but her singles have usually striven to add depth and originality to the general run of radio hits. This, I feel, would risk that reputation, and it's an album track I'd be inclined to skip.

    THAT SONG WE USED TO MAKE LOVE TO

    This is one of the most experimental songs on the album, and indeed, of Carrie's career so far. Some might criticize it for going too far "off genre", but I find that criticism misplaced, and would judge the song a success. Hilary Lindsey's co-writer here is Jason Evigan, a Californian writer and artist/producer, who has worked widely in innovative Pop. His involvement, and the use of electronic programming give this song a definite General Music feel in its experimentation. But, while it may be a reasonable criticism that this trend is increasingly watering down the character of Mainstream Country, especially when simply copying other musical forms, Carrie seems to have planned to take care here to have woven this innovation into Country. Her vocal retains a strong Country tone (ironically, perhaps, more noticeable here than in some of her more soaring "Pop Country" chorus-driven songs). And she relies heavily on her familiar cohort of Country session players, with Dan Dugmore, Danny Rader and Ilya Toshinsky all playing variations on the steel guitar. The resophonic tone more than holds its own amongst the electronic instruments, and this combination strikes me as closer to some of the Progressive music being played in Alternative Country circles than to the off-genre music of some of the contemporary male Mainstream singers. I get a somewhat similar impression here to the one I gained several years ago, when Carrie collaborated with Swedish Pop producers, on "Quitter" - namely, that she will try new approaches, but is confident enough to use them to enlarge a genre that she's at home in, rather than attempt to leave it.
    The complex vocal on this song is all Carrie, tracking her own voice - again, a confident move. And another point that I find striking is that she's prepared to use quite erotic lyrical lines, "When you laid my body down, and then got drunk on me like wine"; "baby go on, let it take my breath" - making this probably her most passionate song since she covered Maria McKee's "Show Me Heaven" as a teenager.
    All told, this is a bold experiment, by an artist not prepared to always accept limitations.

    DRINKING ALONE

    Another experimental song, with synthesized programming, and a variety of vocal effects tracked into the mix by Carrie herself. This time, she relies on Danny Rader's dobro to add some acoustic twang, but that element is generally less evident here than in some of the other songs. Perhaps because the theme suggests a classic Country "tear in my beer" motif, I would have preferred more emphasis on the twang (but, presumably, that would miss the point that Carrie wanted to ring the changes with something more unexpected). As it is, her vocal tone in the main chorus line is one of the most Country aspects of the song - and this is one of the few occasions where I prefer her chorus delivery (which, in other songs, can sometimes prove too overwhelming for my taste). Here, her verse narration, which is often the most interesting part of her songs, strikes me as rather rushed in parts, where I would have preferred a more lingering, reflective delivery. Although I don't find this song to be the most successful of the album's experiments, I admire the uncompromising tone of some of the lyrics, such as "Tonight all I need is a stranger, lips with a whiskey chaser, and a corner booth kiss to make me forget that he's gone" - which shows a willingness to defy the more one dimensional "girl next door" image that some might want to persist in applying to a mature and varied artist.

    THE BULLET

    A much needed song, and one that I find stronger and more effective than the album's somewhat similarly themed and topical song, "Love Wins". "The Bullet", too, may fall rather short of being a perfect track - mainly, in my opinion, because the production tends to become rather forced and overly dramatic as the song develops, blurring some of the sense of emptiness that is at the heart of the lyric - but it is, nevertheless, one of the most significant statements by a leading Mainstream artist, and a topic which would shame the genre if it was kept suppressed as something too controversial to be broached. I've seen criticism that the song ducks placing any blame - but I disagree. It says plainly "You can blame it on hate, or blame it on guns" - and those are the very things that the root of the issue can be blamed on, rather than taking refuge in secondary excuses about loners, misfits, social degeneration, patchy background checks, or failure to arm more responsible civilians. I admire Carrie for tackling the topic - and it both strengthens the song's impact, and seems very much in line with her personality, that the lyric focuses on the pain and ongoing effects of premature loss on the families and survivors.
    The recording seems most effective in its mainly acoustic opening passages, where Carrie's vocal delivery is at its simplest and most sensitive. This style returns at various points, including the very effective closing chorus. But, in general, as the song progresses, the production becomes more complex, and the vocal (where Carrie is supported by Hillary, although neither was a writer here) becomes more forceful, and the delivery rather more hasty. This strikes me as the style Carrie often prefers, when dealing with emotional topics. It can be effective, in stressing a sense of desperation and anguish - but the downside can also be that it puts the singer rather more into a staged role, a little removed from personal immersion in the feelings expressed in those parts of the song. Carrie has said that she would find this song difficult to perform live - and if this more detached, role playing style is the one that helps her deal with more heart-rending topics, then we must accept that that may be the price of including such significant themes on her albums. This may not become a single, but I consider it one of the corner stones of the album.

    SPINNING BOTTLES

    Drinking references have played have an increasing part in Carrie's songs, on both "Storyteller" and "Cry Pretty", and this album, in particular, shows how they can be used, in the stronger songs, to reflect a range of themes, including desperation, recovery and abuse. This is one of the starker, and in my view, most effective, songs, which focuses on the way alcohol addiction can destroy a relationship. The song is skilfully constructed, to show first the apparent harmlessness of the over-indulgence, by comparing it to a children's game with empty bottles, and moving on to the anguish of the wife, waiting at home, not knowing when, or if, the addict will return - then considering the addict's own perspective, wanting to quit, but knowing he won't, and that it will finally lead to separation, before collapsing in a lonely hotel room.
    The track begins with a sparse piano arrangement, and later two keyboard parts (played by Dave Cohen and David Garcia) intertwine, being joined by melodic lines from 'cello (Austin Hoke), and pedal steel (Dan Dugmore). This amounts to one of the more contained musical arrangements on the album, but the interaction between the instruments is more complex than it might at first appear, and its relative lack of additional effects brings out the disparity between apparent normality, and the mounting despair of the lyric. It enables Carrie to concentrate on a more intimate, emotional, vocal delivery, which I think proves to be one of the most expressive of her career. I've been hoping that she'd explore song constructions and vocal deliveries more along these lines, as her career matures, and I hope this development continues.

    LOVE WINS

    This song has attracted considerable attention, much of it focusing on whether it can be seen as a Gay anthem (for which it's both been applauded as a relatively bold step in the context of her career limitations, and also criticized for not going far enough). But that entire area of interpretation requires the listener to relate the song to an external back story - something which doesn't actually appear in the song itself. I think it's worth emphasizing that the two actual issues that are highlighted are the effects of a shooting, and the political divisions that are so apparent in society today (and not just in the USA). As these are specifically mentioned, they deserve to be considered as issues that Carrie considered important in her choice and development of this song (especially as it is the second album track to focus on shooting). Beyond that, the song is a general appeal for love - something that any listener can apply, regardless of context. That generality can be a strength - we need that uplifting message, and it certainly deserves support. But, sadly, I do feel that the wish to make the song as general as possible has led Carrie into its relative weakness. The main problem for me does not lie in what it may fail to say (I understand her wish not to see the song lost in bickering and controversy) - but rather in what I see as its relative failure to live up to the overall feel and spirit of this innovative album. It involves virtually the same musicians as appear in "Kingdom" (which I regard as a much more exceptional and successful track), and they provide some pleasing touches in the musical backing - but the overall production here seems less innovative and more wary of challenging listeners' expectations. And, for me, that becomes even more apparent in the vocal style that Carrie mainly adopts, after the opening stanzas. I'm not questioning that she is, indeed, an exceptionally gifted singer, nor that a great many listeners do relate to this style. But the fact that this seems mainly a reprise of a style that she's used many times before, with an emphasis on power singing, hastened delivery, and considerable lyrical repetition, makes it appear something of a backward-looking approach and a rather problematic fit for much of the rest of the album. That does make this a rather disappointing song for me - something I regret in view of its potential and its positive message.


    END UP WITH YOU

    Another of Carrie's interesting use of cross genre influences, this song is one that might fit well into today's Mainstream radio chart. The mix of musical backgrounds is a particularly striking feature here. Of Hillary Lindsey's co-writers, Brett McLaughlin (who also records as Leland) is generally known for his Pop work (though he has also worked in Country with Kelsie Ballerini) - while Will Weatherley has, for example, also worked on Dan Tyminski's innovative album "Southern Gothic", both as writer and electronic programmer, as he is here. The music also reflects this innovative mix, with a leading role given to Rob McNelley, who has won Guitarist of the Year at the ACM, and performs with Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band, as well as being a leading session player in progressive Country Rock. Here, he shares the rhythm role with Nir Z, an Israeli drummer with a distinguished career in General Music, working for example with Genesis, and John Mayer. (Carrie's own interest in percussion is also seen here, as she adds her own support to the mix).
    There will, inevitably, be those who regret the tendency to blur the Mainstream's musical identity in stylistic mixing - but this also occurs in many of the Roots fields, where it usually seems more acceptable. The key point is often not the fact that it occurs, but more the way in which it is done. In this example, I think Carrie has taken steps to handle the experimentation along lines sympathetic to current trends, but also in a way that evokes interest in the forms the innovation takes. For those listeners who prefer a soaring, pure voice led delivery, the staccato, singalong lyrical couplets of this song may not be among their favourite Carrie styles, but it is unrealistic to expect an artist to become stereotyped to a particular style, and I think this could stand out favourably among many of the contemporary radio offerings.

    KINGDOM

    Leaving aside the bonus track (which, for all its merits, has no production or thematic connection to the album as a whole), "Kingdom" is effectively the album's closing track - a placing that Carrie traditionally reserves for a song that has a special meaning for her, and which has often been different, in style and theme, from the rest of her albums. This time, the personal meaning is certainly there - but rather than being an outlier, I see it this time as a culmination of the production innovation and stylistic growth that Carrie and David Garcia have been experimenting with on this album. And in that, I would rate it as a success, and one of the best songs on the album. I love the way the production develops through this song. It could be described as an increasing build up in sound and power - but that would also oversimplify its complexity, for there are also a variety of sections, where different instrumental and vocal textures predominate - and that is what holds the interest. Although they are very different songs, "Good Girl" is the earlier one that most reminds me of the complexity and surprises in the music that can make a song exceptional. In "Kingdom", I love the acoustic beginning, led by Ilya Toshinskyi and Dan Dugmore, with special touches like the pedal steel echoing Carrie's opening hum. I like the part where Chris McHugh's drums dominate. The speciality string playing of Kris Wilkinson (viola) and Carole Rabinowitz (cello) - two ladies who, between them, have played with so many of the great names of the contemporary scene, in Roots music and well beyond - is effective here. And Carrie's multiple tracking of her own voice in the latter part of the song was a bold additional element that worked well, in my opinion. We know that Carrie loves power vocals and strong production - and I have found this approach overwhelming in some of her earlier work (her Greatest Hits album, where the songs included lacked the counter-balance of the more varied textures of their original albums was a case in point). The power elements occur in "Kingdom" - but here, they seem more in context, with the layered production itself supplying the variety of interest, and I prefer this approach to some of her more "concert stage" vocals.
    Much of the song is built around Carrie's own lfe, with domestic details, due weight given to her personal faith, and a willingness to acknowledge that life can pose personal challenges, even for the glamorous and most succesful. But, at the same time, God, Home and Family are classic Country themes, and the stanza about hard times seems aimed at people generally, and this can be a relateable song for many in her audience. I get the impression that much of what Carrie wanted to say and do with this album finds its conclusion in this song.
    Hil, liz278, txacar and 7 others like this.

  • #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by twaintrain View Post
    My review of Cry Pretty after living with it for a week…


    Cry Pretty – This has joined the ranks of “Jesus Take The Wheel” and “Something In The Water” as one of Carrie’s best first singles. The fact that Carrie, along with the Love Junkies, was able to take her heartbreak and turn it into this anything-but-typical heartbreak ballad is an accomplishment in and of itself. It seems to be a universal message among women (as evidenced by my mother’s reaction the first time I played it for her). The blend of country and rock. The build from the fragile first verse and vocal to the powerful ending vocals. It all just works. The last minute is pure gold as Carrie lets out all her emotion in the best way she can – by belting it. A unique but perfect way to start off the album.

    Ghosts On The Stereo – This reminds me of a mix of “My Church” by Maren Morris and “Two Ghosts” by Harry Styles, which is totally my style. It introduces a sound that I have been wanting Carrie to dabble in for a while. It is probably the most laid-back song on the album, but it totally works. It’s the kind of song you want to listen to on a record player with the lights down low.

    Low – Simply put, “Low” is a masterpiece. I love the beginning sparse guitar and the emotional, quiet vocal lamenting lyrics reminiscent of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams. As soon as the first words are sung, you can tell you are in for something special and it does not disappoint. The slow burn builds to what I believe are Carrie’s most passionate and powerful vocals she has ever laid down on record. Vocals so real and raw they can make you cry. “Low” is a masterclass. “Low” is a gift. “Low” is my pick for the best song on Cry Pretty.

    Backsliding – The first time I heard “Backsliding” I thought ‘Carrie’s doing her version of Sam Hunt,’ and I think it’s a pretty fair assessment. The mix of R&B in country is very hot right now and I can definitely see how Carrie could capitalize on this. From the snippets I was afraid I would not care for this song, but I was proven wrong upon the first full listen. Even though the chorus may not appear “catchy” upon first listen, it has definitely the power to get stuck in your head. I now think it’s a very strong song.


    Southbound – Definitely Carrie’s answer to ‘bro-country’. This song is just plain fun. The mix of country guitars with pop production just works. Hopefully coming to radio summer 2019.

    That Song That We Used To Make Love To – This song caught me off guard. Carrie’s vocals on the verses are passionate and incredible and I am loving the old school R&B vibe. Never heard her like this before. The chorus is probably the catchiest thing Carrie has ever recorded. Of all the songs on the album, this is the one I catch myself singing the most. Nothing here but fun and ear-candy. Love it!

    Drinking Alone – Another soulful, passionate vocal. I love the brassy way she insists “Let me make one thing clear, you can buy me a beer, but you ain't taking me home”. I can definitely see why some have compared this to a modern “Before He Cheats,” it has everything working for it to become a massive hit. This is another favorite of mine, probably second behind “Low”. Definitely hoping it’s single number 3.

    The Bullet – Beautifully written, beautifully sung. “The bullet keeps on going” is such a powerful lyric. What I love about this song is that it’s not some political statement. People on both sides of the aisle can relate to this song. It’s about the lives affected. I honestly think she could release this to radio and it would be a hit.

    Spinning Bottles – This song is pure emotion. You can definitely feel the ‘realness’ in this song and tell that this has hit home for the writers. Again, another side of Carrie we’ve never seen. The raw vocal and stripped down production is a welcomed change from the highly produced sound we are used to hearing from Carrie.

    Love Wins – After an album full of songs (mostly heartbreak) that can definitely be considered ‘new for Carrie,’ this is classic, positive Carrie. As uplifting as the day is long, to me, this song does suffer a little due to over-production and lyrics that tread on clichéd. However, the pure joy and conviction felt from Carrie’s vocals make up for it. It puts a smile on my face and was tailor-made for a sing-along.

    End Up With You – This song is today’s pop with just a tinge of twang. In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine someone like Justin Bieber recording this. This song is just light and airy, fun and sexy. Definitely threw me a little upon the first listen but now I really like it and can’t help singing along.

    Kingdom – As Carrie said, this is the most personal song on the album. As such, you can tell from the emotional vocals that it means a lot to her which endears it to me. I have mixed feelings on how the song closes because I love the way Carrie lets it fly on the last section but I do wish there wasn’t quite so much production. Overall though, I still love the song.

    Cry Pretty is definitely Carrie’s best album to date. There’s not a skippable song on the whole record. I am hoping they release a long line of singles.
    You typed all my feelings up brilliantly ; )
    twaintrain and mbh like this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Farawayhills View Post
    This album represents Carrie's first formal role as producer (although there have been indications that she frequently discussed production and made suggestions before. Here she shares production with David Garcia, a relatively new connection, that evolved from songwriting together. Although Garcia has had some recent connection with Mainstream Country, his main experience has been in Pop and Contemporary Christian Music, enabling him to bring mixed influences, and probably relatively few genre preconceptions, to the production desk. Many of the songs do strike me as having a definite "Carrie" feel, and I think she has made considerable use of the freedom her co-producer role has given her to innovate and express herself in a variety of ways. What I believe is likely to have been of considerable help to Carrie in expressing musically the styles she wante to develop, and in giving much of the album an overall cohesion is the continuity of key musicians. Throughout her major label career, Carrie has shown a marked tendency to use the same session players on substantial parts of her albums. Her favoured rhythm section, of Chris McHugh on drums and Jimmie Lee Sloas on bass, have appeared on every one of her albums, as has electric guitarist, Tom Bukovac, and although the same combination is not heard on every track, it is on the majority. Other players, such as multi string specialist, Ilya Toshinskyi, and flatpicking acoustic guitarist, Bryan Sutton, are also well known from several earlier apperarences. This tends to give rise to a situation in which she knows and trusts the musicians, and they are pretty familiar with her singing styles. A number of other specialist players also make a strong contribution, and the combinations show that the two producers have been prepared to put considerable effort into musical planning and innovation. This has resulted in a situation in which the music and the vocal lines seem particularly to complement each other, and, for me, this remains apparent even when bold and complex production is being employed. One result is that I find that Carrie's exceptional vocal talent often comes across with more variety and clarity than ever.

    The two albums with which I'd be most inclined to compare this one are "Storyteller" and "Some Hearts". "Storyteller" is an easy comparison, since I think this album noticeably builds on directions which Carrie was already exploring on its predecessor. In that category I'd place the willingness to explore more personal and intimate themes, the desire to push some songs in a deeper Country stylistic direction, and the Pop-leaning experiments in other songs. All those trends occurred, to some extent, in earlier work - but I feel it is in the two most recent albums that they find a fuller expression - a sign of Carrie's greater maturity and confidence, and perhaps willingness to explore areas she chooses, with relatively less concern for the expectations of outside interests.

    The comparison with "Some Hearts" may be less obvious, but I mention it for two reasons. Firstly, both albums have a group of standout songs that are stylistically different from other parts of the album, and which I consider to be among Carrie's best work. The four Country singles from "Some Hearts" were largely responsible for winning her critical acclaim and her early spate of award wins at the Country trade shows, and it was only later, with lighter songs such as "Last Name" and "All American Girl" that some of that support moved away from her, notwithstanding her continued commercial success. I believe there is a block of songs on "Cry Pretty" which, if they receive sufficiently wide exposure, could restore her earlier reputation.

    The second reason is that both "Some Hearts" and "Cry Pretty" appear to be aimed at a mixed audience - probably to a greater extent than the intervening albums, which, while varied, stemmed from a situation in which Carrie's career seemed securely focused on a prominent position within Mainstream Country radio. "Some Hearts" came at a time when that position was not secure, and her reputation as a Country singer of note had to be established, while, at the same time keeping faith with the more mixed audience which had encountered her on "American Idol". In the case of "Cry Pretty", Carrie is arguably also at something of a career turning point, since gaining a wider international audience is one of the stated objectives of her move to a new label group - which, by definition, means, to some extent, looking beyond Mainstream Country radio. I think it would probably be a mistake to over-emphasize that point, because much of the album has the feel of being personal to Carrie, expressing what she wants to say, as an individual and as an artist, rather than simply being targeted to particular tastes. But, nevertheless, the potential audiences for different types of song do seem to have been taken into account,

    (The bonus track, "The Champion", is the only one with a different producer, Jim Jonsin, and, while the new direction it explored, and the interest and popularity it aroused, justified its album place as an extra, because of its very different origins and purpose, I've not included it in this album review)

    CRY PRETTY

    This title track, and lead single was co-written with the three Love Junkies, who also provided one of the most memorable (and emotional) songs, "Like I'll Never Love You Again", on Carrie's last album. This one sets the scene for the new album, by emphasizing some of the developments in production, vocal delivery, and more personal themes that Carrie is experimenting with. The first minute is a slow, stark and emotional statement of feelings, accompanied by a sparse arrangement that creates a sense of foreboding. This is probably one of the longest passages of quiet vocal development that Carrie has used, and is very effective in identifying the raw sense of dichotomy between an artist's inner feelings, and the expectations of glamour that her public role insists on. It's followed by a bursting out of Carrie's well known power singing. Inevitably, perhaps, this section seems less innovative, but it serves to reassure the many listeners who principally identify with this style that it is still an important part of her stylistic range. It is in three quarter time, evoking the traditional Country Waltz feel - a reminder that Carrie likes to combine striking modern arrangements with touches that still pay homage to older styles. What I find becomes particularly impressive and unusual about the later development of the song is that both the music and the voice continue to build up into an increasing sense of chaos and despair, in which the lyric sometimes melts into a wordless wail. This is very effective in expressing the theme of the song that, regardless of appearances, an artist might be almost overwhelmed by her own inner feelings, that can arise from matters quite beyond the artificiality of her stage role. In that sense I would regard this song as one of four on the album that deal with topical issues: the demands of the entertainment world (here); substance abuse ("Spinning Bottles"); empathy with victims of gun violence ("The Bullet", and "Love Wins"); political division and prejudice ("Love Wins"). Carrie has addressed social issues before ("Temporary Home", "Change" and "Nobody Ever Told You" being earlier examples), but "Smoke Break" on the previous album, and the four songs on this one, represent a definite development in both depth and emphasis


    GHOSTS ON THE STEREO

    Sadly one of the writers, Andrew Dorff, passed away shortly before Christmas, 2016, at the early age of 40, and this remarkable song must serve as one of his memorials.

    I have seen some criticism that Carrie, a leading Mainstream singer, may have chosen this song as a "nod" to evoke a nominal allegiance to traditional singers whose work runs counter to her own - but that criticism strikes me as missing the whole point, in two important senses. One is that Carrie, although a contemporary singer, who draws on a mix of influences (something which, if we're honest, we should admit has happened throughout the genre's history), she does show a persistent and marked loyalty to her place in the genre (something she would have had numerous opportunities to reject), and does take more trouble than many contemporary chart artists to include specific references to the genre's traditions in much of her own work. Hating on the Mainstream is often understandable (I share that emotion often enough myself!), but singling out Carrie as the symbolic target is far from identifying the worst offender. The second reason is contained in the song itself - the character is described as going through a separation, but finding solace in listening to recordings of past heroes. The point is that the party mood described is imaginary - it seems like a haunted house, with just one car in the drive. But the singer finds her company in identifying with the timeless mood of the songs she recalls. Far from being a "nod" to a set of names, connecting with the stream of emotion those singers represent is the whole point of the song.
    And we should not miss the significance of the guest artists brought in to supplement Carrie's more usual session players. Holly Williams is Hank's granddaughter, and Ben Haggard is Merle's son. Steel player Steve Hinson often worked with George Jones. These people didn't need to appear, and the fact that they did is consistent with my own experience - years ago, I was persuaded to look up Carrie's work by remarks made by women singers in Roots Country who admired her. The reality is that she often gets more respect from artists in that sector than from some of the more partisan critics.
    "Ghosts on the Stereo" is one that I find to be among the most memorable tracks on the album. I like the concept, find the music interesting with the slow build up, and the sequence of notes that keeps recurring through the changing background. And Carrie's vocal conveys the mood well, knowing when to draw out the emotion, and when to emphasize the sense of recovery, showing enough power singing, without going over the top, in a song that might be spoilt by too forceful a delivery,

    LOW

    A standout track, with some of the best lyrics, and one of the best vocal performances of Carrie's career - this is a singing style that I would hope Carrie will continue to develop. Coming after the last song, this track clearly reflects the influence of Hank Williams' landmark album "Moanin' The Blues", both in the general singing style, and in the lyrical references to the whippoorwill and to lonesome, which recall the track, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", often considered his lyrical masterpiece. However, I would also point to possible influence from Bill Mack's 1958 song "Blue", both in the drawn out vowel wail, and in the specific wording "so lonesome for you". Williams' album (which has influenced generations of Country singers, especially in the more Roots-leaning sectors) came out in 1952, but was really a collection of singles dating from 1947 onwards - so in drawing on these two influences, Carrie is probably reaching back 60 to 70 years in the genre's history. But nothing stands still, and this is not just a derivative track - the strong percussion that breaks in, and the electric guitar work of Danny Rader and Rob McNelly add notable modern progression to the arrangement.
    Since the album came out, Carrie has revealed that she suffered three miscarriages in the years since her last album. There is a prevailing sadness in several songs on this album, but some of those seem to involve broken relationships, or other issues affecting people in general - "Low", though, strikes me as one of the most personal, in which Carrie may have focused particularly on her own feelings. The line "Everything that was right is wrong, ever since baby you've been gone" seems especially poignant, in light of what has since been revealed, and may go beyond the more superficial interpretation of a departed lover. And it is interesting that Hillary Lindsey plays acoustic guitar on this song. She has sung on every one of Carrie's albums, but just playing seems new - it is tempting to interpret this as a friend, who was with her in the writing session, accompanying her while she tracked her vocals, to support her on what may have been a difficult song for her to sing.

    BACKSLIDING

    In my opinion, this song could be a strong launchpad for a thrust into the UK General Music market. It demonstrates the advantages to Carrie of taking control of her own production, since it enables her to use a multi-layered arrangement to create a song that seems to transcend genre, in a way that ties together varied modern elements, without sacrificing an underlying Country feel. Dan Dugmore's pedal steel glides through the song, giving it a haunting, timeless quality. And there is an interesting lyrical point, that I think reinforces the sense of the song bridging a transition through time for Carrie herself. She uses a line which is almost a doublet for a line in the very first Country song she recorded after "American Idol" - Gretchen Peters' "Independence Day". The line in the older song (on which Gretchen herself played strings for Carrie's recording) was "Word gets around in a small, small town", and the line Carrie uses here is "word gets around in such a small town". That close resemblance seems unlikely to be accidental, and suggests to me that Carrie might be using it to emphasize that this album too is a new turning point in her career. Her vocal line in the verses comes across as particularly clear and expressive, not swamped by the complex, but relatively light, musical production. It is combined with choruses that bring in an element of her signature power vocal, and allow her to express the sense of desperation and inevitability in the repetition of the word "Backsliding". The background vocals (where Carrie joins her co-writers Hillary and David, in tracking her own voice) are an interesting element, which adds mood to the song, and Bryan Sutton's melodic riff gives it a perfect finish.

    SOUTHBOUND

    While the more memorable songs on this album lean towards sadness and retrospection, this track breaks that mood with a nod towards the prevailing Mainstream liking for party songs. That may increase its appeal to radio, and to listeners seeking a lighter, upbeat song to balance the more serious tracks. Those considerations may justify its inclusion, but for me, this is a disappointing song, which seems an ill fit for the mixture of progressive innovation and deep genre references that characterize the album as a whole. It is Carrie's second venture into "getaway" songs, but in my opinion, her earlier "One Way Ticket" showed a greater individuality, having more of the feel of a parody, and a touch of defiance in telling the boss to "stick it". By contrast, I feel that "Southbound" seems too accepting of "bro country" conventions of parties, boys catching the eye of pretty girls, tan lines and outdoor dancing. The music seems to include a slight Louisiana Cajun influence, but that strikes me as virtually the only concession to variation, in a rather obvious pitch to an arguably over-used Mainstream sub-genre. Carrie has always enjoyed some fun songs - but her singles have usually striven to add depth and originality to the general run of radio hits. This, I feel, would risk that reputation, and it's an album track I'd be inclined to skip.

    THAT SONG WE USED TO MAKE LOVE TO

    This is one of the most experimental songs on the album, and indeed, of Carrie's career so far. Some might criticize it for going too far "off genre", but I find that criticism misplaced, and would judge the song a success. Hilary Lindsey's co-writer here is Jason Evigan, a Californian writer and artist/producer, who has worked widely in innovative Pop. His involvement, and the use of electronic programming give this song a definite General Music feel in its experimentation. But, while it may be a reasonable criticism that this trend is increasingly watering down the character of Mainstream Country, especially when simply copying other musical forms, Carrie seems to have planned to take care here to have woven this innovation into Country. Her vocal retains a strong Country tone (ironically, perhaps, more noticeable here than in some of her more soaring "Pop Country" chorus-driven songs). And she relies heavily on her familiar cohort of Country session players, with Dan Dugmore, Danny Rader and Ilya Toshinsky all playing variations on the steel guitar. The resophonic tone more than holds its own amongst the electronic instruments, and this combination strikes me as closer to some of the Progressive music being played in Alternative Country circles than to the off-genre music of some of the contemporary male Mainstream singers. I get a somewhat similar impression here to the one I gained several years ago, when Carrie collaborated with Swedish Pop producers, on "Quitter" - namely, that she will try new approaches, but is confident enough to use them to enlarge a genre that she's at home in, rather than attempt to leave it.
    The complex vocal on this song is all Carrie, tracking her own voice - again, a confident move. And another point that I find striking is that she's prepared to use quite erotic lyrical lines, "When you laid my body down, and then got drunk on me like wine"; "baby go on, let it take my breath" - making this probably her most passionate song since she covered Maria McKee's "Show Me Heaven" as a teenager.
    All told, this is a bold experiment, by an artist not prepared to always accept limitations.

    DRINKING ALONE

    Another experimental song, with synthesized programming, and a variety of vocal effects tracked into the mix by Carrie herself. This time, she relies on Danny Rader's dobro to add some acoustic twang, but that element is generally less evident here than in some of the other songs. Perhaps because the theme suggests a classic Country "tear in my beer" motif, I would have preferred more emphasis on the twang (but, presumably, that would miss the point that Carrie wanted to ring the changes with something more unexpected). As it is, her vocal tone in the main chorus line is one of the most Country aspects of the song - and this is one of the few occasions where I prefer her chorus delivery (which, in other songs, can sometimes prove too overwhelming for my taste). Here, her verse narration, which is often the most interesting part of her songs, strikes me as rather rushed in parts, where I would have preferred a more lingering, reflective delivery. Although I don't find this song to be the most successful of the album's experiments, I admire the uncompromising tone of some of the lyrics, such as "Tonight all I need is a stranger, lips with a whiskey chaser, and a corner booth kiss to make me forget that he's gone" - which shows a willingness to defy the more one dimensional "girl next door" image that some might want to persist in applying to a mature and varied artist.

    THE BULLET

    A much needed song, and one that I find stronger and more effective than the album's somewhat similarly themed and topical song, "Love Wins". "The Bullet", too, may fall rather short of being a perfect track - mainly, in my opinion, because the production tends to become rather forced and overly dramatic as the song develops, blurring some of the sense of emptiness that is at the heart of the lyric - but it is, nevertheless, one of the most significant statements by a leading Mainstream artist, and a topic which would shame the genre if it was kept suppressed as something too controversial to be broached. I've seen criticism that the song ducks placing any blame - but I disagree. It says plainly "You can blame it on hate, or blame it on guns" - and those are the very things that the root of the issue can be blamed on, rather than taking refuge in secondary excuses about loners, misfits, social degeneration, patchy background checks, or failure to arm more responsible civilians. I admire Carrie for tackling the topic - and it both strengthens the song's impact, and seems very much in line with her personality, that the lyric focuses on the pain and ongoing effects of premature loss on the families and survivors.
    The recording seems most effective in its mainly acoustic opening passages, where Carrie's vocal delivery is at its simplest and most sensitive. This style returns at various points, including the very effective closing chorus. But, in general, as the song progresses, the production becomes more complex, and the vocal (where Carrie is supported by Hillary, although neither was a writer here) becomes more forceful, and the delivery rather more hasty. This strikes me as the style Carrie often prefers, when dealing with emotional topics. It can be effective, in stressing a sense of desperation and anguish - but the downside can also be that it puts the singer rather more into a staged role, a little removed from personal immersion in the feelings expressed in those parts of the song. Carrie has said that she would find this song difficult to perform live - and if this more detached, role playing style is the one that helps her deal with more heart-rending topics, then we must accept that that may be the price of including such significant themes on her albums. This may not become a single, but I consider it one of the corner stones of the album.

    SPINNING BOTTLES

    Drinking references have played have an increasing part in Carrie's songs, on both "Storyteller" and "Cry Pretty", and this album, in particular, shows how they can be used, in the stronger songs, to reflect a range of themes, including desperation, recovery and abuse. This is one of the starker, and in my view, most effective, songs, which focuses on the way alcohol addiction can destroy a relationship. The song is skilfully constructed, to show first the apparent harmlessness of the over-indulgence, by comparing it to a children's game with empty bottles, and moving on to the anguish of the wife, waiting at home, not knowing when, or if, the addict will return - then considering the addict's own perspective, wanting to quit, but knowing he won't, and that it will finally lead to separation, before collapsing in a lonely hotel room.
    The track begins with a sparse piano arrangement, and later two keyboard parts (played by Dave Cohen and David Garcia) intertwine, being joined by melodic lines from 'cello (Austin Hoke), and pedal steel (Dan Dugmore). This amounts to one of the more contained musical arrangements on the album, but the interaction between the instruments is more complex than it might at first appear, and its relative lack of additional effects brings out the disparity between apparent normality, and the mounting despair of the lyric. It enables Carrie to concentrate on a more intimate, emotional, vocal delivery, which I think proves to be one of the most expressive of her career. I've been hoping that she'd explore song constructions and vocal deliveries more along these lines, as her career matures, and I hope this development continues.

    LOVE WINS

    This song has attracted considerable attention, much of it focusing on whether it can be seen as a Gay anthem (for which it's both been applauded as a relatively bold step in the context of her career limitations, and also criticized for not going far enough). But that entire area of interpretation requires the listener to relate the song to an external back story - something which doesn't actually appear in the song itself. I think it's worth emphasizing that the two actual issues that are highlighted are the effects of a shooting, and the political divisions that are so apparent in society today (and not just in the USA). As these are specifically mentioned, they deserve to be considered as issues that Carrie considered important in her choice and development of this song (especially as it is the second album track to focus on shooting). Beyond that, the song is a general appeal for love - something that any listener can apply, regardless of context. That generality can be a strength - we need that uplifting message, and it certainly deserves support. But, sadly, I do feel that the wish to make the song as general as possible has led Carrie into its relative weakness. The main problem for me does not lie in what it may fail to say (I understand her wish not to see the song lost in bickering and controversy) - but rather in what I see as its relative failure to live up to the overall feel and spirit of this innovative album. It involves virtually the same musicians as appear in "Kingdom" (which I regard as a much more exceptional and successful track), and they provide some pleasing touches in the musical backing - but the overall production here seems less innovative and more wary of challenging listeners' expectations. And, for me, that becomes even more apparent in the vocal style that Carrie mainly adopts, after the opening stanzas. I'm not questioning that she is, indeed, an exceptionally gifted singer, nor that a great many listeners do relate to this style. But the fact that this seems mainly a reprise of a style that she's used many times before, with an emphasis on power singing, hastened delivery, and considerable lyrical repetition, makes it appear something of a backward-looking approach and a rather problematic fit for much of the rest of the album. That does make this a rather disappointing song for me - something I regret in view of its potential and its positive message.


    END UP WITH YOU

    Another of Carrie's interesting use of cross genre influences, this song is one that might fit well into today's Mainstream radio chart. The mix of musical backgrounds is a particularly striking feature here. Of Hillary Lindsey's co-writers, Brett McLaughlin (who also records as Leland) is generally known for his Pop work (though he has also worked in Country with Kelsie Ballerini) - while Will Weatherley has, for example, also worked on Dan Tyminski's innovative album "Southern Gothic", both as writer and electronic programmer, as he is here. The music also reflects this innovative mix, with a leading role given to Rob McNelley, who has won Guitarist of the Year at the ACM, and performs with Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band, as well as being a leading session player in progressive Country Rock. Here, he shares the rhythm role with Nir Z, an Israeli drummer with a distinguished career in General Music, working for example with Genesis, and John Mayer. (Carrie's own interest in percussion is also seen here, as she adds her own support to the mix).
    There will, inevitably, be those who regret the tendency to blur the Mainstream's musical identity in stylistic mixing - but this also occurs in many of the Roots fields, where it usually seems more acceptable. The key point is often not the fact that it occurs, but more the way in which it is done. In this example, I think Carrie has taken steps to handle the experimentation along lines sympathetic to current trends, but also in a way that evokes interest in the forms the innovation takes. For those listeners who prefer a soaring, pure voice led delivery, the staccato, singalong lyrical couplets of this song may not be among their favourite Carrie styles, but it is unrealistic to expect an artist to become stereotyped to a particular style, and I think this could stand out favourably among many of the contemporary radio offerings.

    KINGDOM

    Leaving aside the bonus track (which, for all its merits, has no production or thematic connection to the album as a whole), "Kingdom" is effectively the album's closing track - a placing that Carrie traditionally reserves for a song that has a special meaning for her, and which has often been different, in style and theme, from the rest of her albums. This time, the personal meaning is certainly there - but rather than being an outlier, I see it this time as a culmination of the production innovation and stylistic growth that Carrie and David Garcia have been experimenting with on this album. And in that, I would rate it as a success, and one of the best songs on the album. I love the way the production develops through this song. It could be described as an increasing build up in sound and power - but that would also oversimplify its complexity, for there are also a variety of sections, where different instrumental and vocal textures predominate - and that is what holds the interest. Although they are very different songs, "Good Girl" is the earlier one that most reminds me of the complexity and surprises in the music that can make a song exceptional. In "Kingdom", I love the acoustic beginning, led by Ilya Toshinskyi and Dan Dugmore, with special touches like the pedal steel echoing Carrie's opening hum. I like the part where Chris McHugh's drums dominate. The speciality string playing of Kris Wilkinson (viola) and Carole Rabinowitz (cello) - two ladies who, between them, have played with so many of the great names of the contemporary scene, in Roots music and well beyond - is effective here. And Carrie's multiple tracking of her own voice in the latter part of the song was a bold additional element that worked well, in my opinion. We know that Carrie loves power vocals and strong production - and I have found this approach overwhelming in some of her earlier work (her Greatest Hits album, where the songs included lacked the counter-balance of the more varied textures of their original albums was a case in point). The power elements occur in "Kingdom" - but here, they seem more in context, with the layered production itself supplying the variety of interest, and I prefer this approach to some of her more "concert stage" vocals.
    Much of the song is built around Carrie's own lfe, with domestic details, due weight given to her personal faith, and a willingness to acknowledge that life can pose personal challenges, even for the glamorous and most succesful. But, at the same time, God, Home and Family are classic Country themes, and the stanza about hard times seems aimed at people generally, and this can be a relateable song for many in her audience. I get the impression that much of what Carrie wanted to say and do with this album finds its conclusion in this song.
    Thank you, Faraway. You made my evening. I'm intimidated by your knowledge but I love it and will refer to this review over and over, listening to the album and applying your insight to each song.
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    Ultimate Carrie Fan Smokyiiis's Avatar
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    I couldn’t have said it more succinctly! I agree txacar! Faraway reviews always make me think about the components of the song that don’t just naturally filter their way thru my evaluation of a song. My own interest in music was always from the VOCAL end of it and hence my draw to Carrie. But seeing how the instrumentation and variances filter thru really strengthens my limited knowledge in those components of the overall development. LOVE your review Faraway!

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    Ultimate Carrie Fan Smokyiiis's Avatar
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    Do you do this for a living Faraway? Just curious!
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    Ultimate Carrie Fan Farawayhills's Avatar
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    Thanks for the support!

    As for the suggestion that I might do this for a living - emphatically no! (I think I'd be an editor's nightmare - never likely to meet deadlines, and usually unable to make what I write succinct enough to fit into the space I'd be allowed!), lol

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    Ultimate Carrie Fan Smokyiiis's Avatar
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    ^^^^funny! Exceptional ear though!
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    Insane Carrie Fan twaintrain's Avatar
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    I just want to bring up something, I’ve heard a lot of talk about the production on “The Bullet,” saying it’s over-produced or not sad enough, etc. I personally think it’s perfect and one of the best songs of Carrie’s career. But, I think the reason there’s not more stripped down production as in “Spinning Bottles” is because it has a chance at being a single. Although I adore “Spinning Bottles,” I don’t think it was made with radio in mind. The production on “The Bullet” is reminiscent of ‘90s country (the greatest music of all-time to me). I think there can be a fine line for what radio will/will not play. The production on “The Bullet” makes it easy to put on repeat which is what is needed for radio to play it.
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    mbh
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    Quote Originally Posted by twaintrain View Post
    I just want to bring up something, I’ve heard a lot of talk about the production on “The Bullet,” saying it’s over-produced or not sad enough, etc. I personally think it’s perfect and one of the best songs of Carrie’s career. But, I think the reason there’s not more stripped down production as in “Spinning Bottles” is because it has a chance at being a single. Although I adore “Spinning Bottles,” I don’t think it was made with radio in mind. The production on “The Bullet” is reminiscent of ‘90s country (the greatest music of all-time to me). I think there can be a fine line for what radio will/will not play. The production on “The Bullet” makes it easy to put on repeat which is what is needed for radio to play it.
    I agree! I really love Sin Wagon of Dixie Chicks and Independence Day of Martina Mcbride of '90s country. I still feel bad about what happen to Dixie Chicks.
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    mbh
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    Quote Originally Posted by Farawayhills View Post
    This album represents Carrie's first formal role as producer (although there have been indications that she frequently discussed production and made suggestions before. Here she shares production with David Garcia, a relatively new connection, that evolved from songwriting together. Although Garcia has had some recent connection with Mainstream Country, his main experience has been in Pop and Contemporary Christian Music, enabling him to bring mixed influences, and probably relatively few genre preconceptions, to the production desk. Many of the songs do strike me as having a definite "Carrie" feel, and I think she has made considerable use of the freedom her co-producer role has given her to innovate and express herself in a variety of ways. What I believe is likely to have been of considerable help to Carrie in expressing musically the styles she wante to develop, and in giving much of the album an overall cohesion is the continuity of key musicians. Throughout her major label career, Carrie has shown a marked tendency to use the same session players on substantial parts of her albums. Her favoured rhythm section, of Chris McHugh on drums and Jimmie Lee Sloas on bass, have appeared on every one of her albums, as has electric guitarist, Tom Bukovac, and although the same combination is not heard on every track, it is on the majority. Other players, such as multi string specialist, Ilya Toshinskyi, and flatpicking acoustic guitarist, Bryan Sutton, are also well known from several earlier apperarences. This tends to give rise to a situation in which she knows and trusts the musicians, and they are pretty familiar with her singing styles. A number of other specialist players also make a strong contribution, and the combinations show that the two producers have been prepared to put considerable effort into musical planning and innovation. This has resulted in a situation in which the music and the vocal lines seem particularly to complement each other, and, for me, this remains apparent even when bold and complex production is being employed. One result is that I find that Carrie's exceptional vocal talent often comes across with more variety and clarity than ever.

    The two albums with which I'd be most inclined to compare this one are "Storyteller" and "Some Hearts". "Storyteller" is an easy comparison, since I think this album noticeably builds on directions which Carrie was already exploring on its predecessor. In that category I'd place the willingness to explore more personal and intimate themes, the desire to push some songs in a deeper Country stylistic direction, and the Pop-leaning experiments in other songs. All those trends occurred, to some extent, in earlier work - but I feel it is in the two most recent albums that they find a fuller expression - a sign of Carrie's greater maturity and confidence, and perhaps willingness to explore areas she chooses, with relatively less concern for the expectations of outside interests.

    The comparison with "Some Hearts" may be less obvious, but I mention it for two reasons. Firstly, both albums have a group of standout songs that are stylistically different from other parts of the album, and which I consider to be among Carrie's best work. The four Country singles from "Some Hearts" were largely responsible for winning her critical acclaim and her early spate of award wins at the Country trade shows, and it was only later, with lighter songs such as "Last Name" and "All American Girl" that some of that support moved away from her, notwithstanding her continued commercial success. I believe there is a block of songs on "Cry Pretty" which, if they receive sufficiently wide exposure, could restore her earlier reputation.

    The second reason is that both "Some Hearts" and "Cry Pretty" appear to be aimed at a mixed audience - probably to a greater extent than the intervening albums, which, while varied, stemmed from a situation in which Carrie's career seemed securely focused on a prominent position within Mainstream Country radio. "Some Hearts" came at a time when that position was not secure, and her reputation as a Country singer of note had to be established, while, at the same time keeping faith with the more mixed audience which had encountered her on "American Idol". In the case of "Cry Pretty", Carrie is arguably also at something of a career turning point, since gaining a wider international audience is one of the stated objectives of her move to a new label group - which, by definition, means, to some extent, looking beyond Mainstream Country radio. I think it would probably be a mistake to over-emphasize that point, because much of the album has the feel of being personal to Carrie, expressing what she wants to say, as an individual and as an artist, rather than simply being targeted to particular tastes. But, nevertheless, the potential audiences for different types of song do seem to have been taken into account,

    (The bonus track, "The Champion", is the only one with a different producer, Jim Jonsin, and, while the new direction it explored, and the interest and popularity it aroused, justified its album place as an extra, because of its very different origins and purpose, I've not included it in this album review)

    CRY PRETTY

    This title track, and lead single was co-written with the three Love Junkies, who also provided one of the most memorable (and emotional) songs, "Like I'll Never Love You Again", on Carrie's last album. This one sets the scene for the new album, by emphasizing some of the developments in production, vocal delivery, and more personal themes that Carrie is experimenting with. The first minute is a slow, stark and emotional statement of feelings, accompanied by a sparse arrangement that creates a sense of foreboding. This is probably one of the longest passages of quiet vocal development that Carrie has used, and is very effective in identifying the raw sense of dichotomy between an artist's inner feelings, and the expectations of glamour that her public role insists on. It's followed by a bursting out of Carrie's well known power singing. Inevitably, perhaps, this section seems less innovative, but it serves to reassure the many listeners who principally identify with this style that it is still an important part of her stylistic range. It is in three quarter time, evoking the traditional Country Waltz feel - a reminder that Carrie likes to combine striking modern arrangements with touches that still pay homage to older styles. What I find becomes particularly impressive and unusual about the later development of the song is that both the music and the voice continue to build up into an increasing sense of chaos and despair, in which the lyric sometimes melts into a wordless wail. This is very effective in expressing the theme of the song that, regardless of appearances, an artist might be almost overwhelmed by her own inner feelings, that can arise from matters quite beyond the artificiality of her stage role. In that sense I would regard this song as one of four on the album that deal with topical issues: the demands of the entertainment world (here); substance abuse ("Spinning Bottles"); empathy with victims of gun violence ("The Bullet", and "Love Wins"); political division and prejudice ("Love Wins"). Carrie has addressed social issues before ("Temporary Home", "Change" and "Nobody Ever Told You" being earlier examples), but "Smoke Break" on the previous album, and the four songs on this one, represent a definite development in both depth and emphasis


    GHOSTS ON THE STEREO

    Sadly one of the writers, Andrew Dorff, passed away shortly before Christmas, 2016, at the early age of 40, and this remarkable song must serve as one of his memorials.

    I have seen some criticism that Carrie, a leading Mainstream singer, may have chosen this song as a "nod" to evoke a nominal allegiance to traditional singers whose work runs counter to her own - but that criticism strikes me as missing the whole point, in two important senses. One is that Carrie, although a contemporary singer, who draws on a mix of influences (something which, if we're honest, we should admit has happened throughout the genre's history), she does show a persistent and marked loyalty to her place in the genre (something she would have had numerous opportunities to reject), and does take more trouble than many contemporary chart artists to include specific references to the genre's traditions in much of her own work. Hating on the Mainstream is often understandable (I share that emotion often enough myself!), but singling out Carrie as the symbolic target is far from identifying the worst offender. The second reason is contained in the song itself - the character is described as going through a separation, but finding solace in listening to recordings of past heroes. The point is that the party mood described is imaginary - it seems like a haunted house, with just one car in the drive. But the singer finds her company in identifying with the timeless mood of the songs she recalls. Far from being a "nod" to a set of names, connecting with the stream of emotion those singers represent is the whole point of the song.
    And we should not miss the significance of the guest artists brought in to supplement Carrie's more usual session players. Holly Williams is Hank's granddaughter, and Ben Haggard is Merle's son. Steel player Steve Hinson often worked with George Jones. These people didn't need to appear, and the fact that they did is consistent with my own experience - years ago, I was persuaded to look up Carrie's work by remarks made by women singers in Roots Country who admired her. The reality is that she often gets more respect from artists in that sector than from some of the more partisan critics.
    "Ghosts on the Stereo" is one that I find to be among the most memorable tracks on the album. I like the concept, find the music interesting with the slow build up, and the sequence of notes that keeps recurring through the changing background. And Carrie's vocal conveys the mood well, knowing when to draw out the emotion, and when to emphasize the sense of recovery, showing enough power singing, without going over the top, in a song that might be spoilt by too forceful a delivery,

    LOW

    A standout track, with some of the best lyrics, and one of the best vocal performances of Carrie's career - this is a singing style that I would hope Carrie will continue to develop. Coming after the last song, this track clearly reflects the influence of Hank Williams' landmark album "Moanin' The Blues", both in the general singing style, and in the lyrical references to the whippoorwill and to lonesome, which recall the track, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", often considered his lyrical masterpiece. However, I would also point to possible influence from Bill Mack's 1958 song "Blue", both in the drawn out vowel wail, and in the specific wording "so lonesome for you". Williams' album (which has influenced generations of Country singers, especially in the more Roots-leaning sectors) came out in 1952, but was really a collection of singles dating from 1947 onwards - so in drawing on these two influences, Carrie is probably reaching back 60 to 70 years in the genre's history. But nothing stands still, and this is not just a derivative track - the strong percussion that breaks in, and the electric guitar work of Danny Rader and Rob McNelly add notable modern progression to the arrangement.
    Since the album came out, Carrie has revealed that she suffered three miscarriages in the years since her last album. There is a prevailing sadness in several songs on this album, but some of those seem to involve broken relationships, or other issues affecting people in general - "Low", though, strikes me as one of the most personal, in which Carrie may have focused particularly on her own feelings. The line "Everything that was right is wrong, ever since baby you've been gone" seems especially poignant, in light of what has since been revealed, and may go beyond the more superficial interpretation of a departed lover. And it is interesting that Hillary Lindsey plays acoustic guitar on this song. She has sung on every one of Carrie's albums, but just playing seems new - it is tempting to interpret this as a friend, who was with her in the writing session, accompanying her while she tracked her vocals, to support her on what may have been a difficult song for her to sing.

    BACKSLIDING

    In my opinion, this song could be a strong launchpad for a thrust into the UK General Music market. It demonstrates the advantages to Carrie of taking control of her own production, since it enables her to use a multi-layered arrangement to create a song that seems to transcend genre, in a way that ties together varied modern elements, without sacrificing an underlying Country feel. Dan Dugmore's pedal steel glides through the song, giving it a haunting, timeless quality. And there is an interesting lyrical point, that I think reinforces the sense of the song bridging a transition through time for Carrie herself. She uses a line which is almost a doublet for a line in the very first Country song she recorded after "American Idol" - Gretchen Peters' "Independence Day". The line in the older song (on which Gretchen herself played strings for Carrie's recording) was "Word gets around in a small, small town", and the line Carrie uses here is "word gets around in such a small town". That close resemblance seems unlikely to be accidental, and suggests to me that Carrie might be using it to emphasize that this album too is a new turning point in her career. Her vocal line in the verses comes across as particularly clear and expressive, not swamped by the complex, but relatively light, musical production. It is combined with choruses that bring in an element of her signature power vocal, and allow her to express the sense of desperation and inevitability in the repetition of the word "Backsliding". The background vocals (where Carrie joins her co-writers Hillary and David, in tracking her own voice) are an interesting element, which adds mood to the song, and Bryan Sutton's melodic riff gives it a perfect finish.

    SOUTHBOUND

    While the more memorable songs on this album lean towards sadness and retrospection, this track breaks that mood with a nod towards the prevailing Mainstream liking for party songs. That may increase its appeal to radio, and to listeners seeking a lighter, upbeat song to balance the more serious tracks. Those considerations may justify its inclusion, but for me, this is a disappointing song, which seems an ill fit for the mixture of progressive innovation and deep genre references that characterize the album as a whole. It is Carrie's second venture into "getaway" songs, but in my opinion, her earlier "One Way Ticket" showed a greater individuality, having more of the feel of a parody, and a touch of defiance in telling the boss to "stick it". By contrast, I feel that "Southbound" seems too accepting of "bro country" conventions of parties, boys catching the eye of pretty girls, tan lines and outdoor dancing. The music seems to include a slight Louisiana Cajun influence, but that strikes me as virtually the only concession to variation, in a rather obvious pitch to an arguably over-used Mainstream sub-genre. Carrie has always enjoyed some fun songs - but her singles have usually striven to add depth and originality to the general run of radio hits. This, I feel, would risk that reputation, and it's an album track I'd be inclined to skip.

    THAT SONG WE USED TO MAKE LOVE TO

    This is one of the most experimental songs on the album, and indeed, of Carrie's career so far. Some might criticize it for going too far "off genre", but I find that criticism misplaced, and would judge the song a success. Hilary Lindsey's co-writer here is Jason Evigan, a Californian writer and artist/producer, who has worked widely in innovative Pop. His involvement, and the use of electronic programming give this song a definite General Music feel in its experimentation. But, while it may be a reasonable criticism that this trend is increasingly watering down the character of Mainstream Country, especially when simply copying other musical forms, Carrie seems to have planned to take care here to have woven this innovation into Country. Her vocal retains a strong Country tone (ironically, perhaps, more noticeable here than in some of her more soaring "Pop Country" chorus-driven songs). And she relies heavily on her familiar cohort of Country session players, with Dan Dugmore, Danny Rader and Ilya Toshinsky all playing variations on the steel guitar. The resophonic tone more than holds its own amongst the electronic instruments, and this combination strikes me as closer to some of the Progressive music being played in Alternative Country circles than to the off-genre music of some of the contemporary male Mainstream singers. I get a somewhat similar impression here to the one I gained several years ago, when Carrie collaborated with Swedish Pop producers, on "Quitter" - namely, that she will try new approaches, but is confident enough to use them to enlarge a genre that she's at home in, rather than attempt to leave it.
    The complex vocal on this song is all Carrie, tracking her own voice - again, a confident move. And another point that I find striking is that she's prepared to use quite erotic lyrical lines, "When you laid my body down, and then got drunk on me like wine"; "baby go on, let it take my breath" - making this probably her most passionate song since she covered Maria McKee's "Show Me Heaven" as a teenager.
    All told, this is a bold experiment, by an artist not prepared to always accept limitations.

    DRINKING ALONE

    Another experimental song, with synthesized programming, and a variety of vocal effects tracked into the mix by Carrie herself. This time, she relies on Danny Rader's dobro to add some acoustic twang, but that element is generally less evident here than in some of the other songs. Perhaps because the theme suggests a classic Country "tear in my beer" motif, I would have preferred more emphasis on the twang (but, presumably, that would miss the point that Carrie wanted to ring the changes with something more unexpected). As it is, her vocal tone in the main chorus line is one of the most Country aspects of the song - and this is one of the few occasions where I prefer her chorus delivery (which, in other songs, can sometimes prove too overwhelming for my taste). Here, her verse narration, which is often the most interesting part of her songs, strikes me as rather rushed in parts, where I would have preferred a more lingering, reflective delivery. Although I don't find this song to be the most successful of the album's experiments, I admire the uncompromising tone of some of the lyrics, such as "Tonight all I need is a stranger, lips with a whiskey chaser, and a corner booth kiss to make me forget that he's gone" - which shows a willingness to defy the more one dimensional "girl next door" image that some might want to persist in applying to a mature and varied artist.

    THE BULLET

    A much needed song, and one that I find stronger and more effective than the album's somewhat similarly themed and topical song, "Love Wins". "The Bullet", too, may fall rather short of being a perfect track - mainly, in my opinion, because the production tends to become rather forced and overly dramatic as the song develops, blurring some of the sense of emptiness that is at the heart of the lyric - but it is, nevertheless, one of the most significant statements by a leading Mainstream artist, and a topic which would shame the genre if it was kept suppressed as something too controversial to be broached. I've seen criticism that the song ducks placing any blame - but I disagree. It says plainly "You can blame it on hate, or blame it on guns" - and those are the very things that the root of the issue can be blamed on, rather than taking refuge in secondary excuses about loners, misfits, social degeneration, patchy background checks, or failure to arm more responsible civilians. I admire Carrie for tackling the topic - and it both strengthens the song's impact, and seems very much in line with her personality, that the lyric focuses on the pain and ongoing effects of premature loss on the families and survivors.
    The recording seems most effective in its mainly acoustic opening passages, where Carrie's vocal delivery is at its simplest and most sensitive. This style returns at various points, including the very effective closing chorus. But, in general, as the song progresses, the production becomes more complex, and the vocal (where Carrie is supported by Hillary, although neither was a writer here) becomes more forceful, and the delivery rather more hasty. This strikes me as the style Carrie often prefers, when dealing with emotional topics. It can be effective, in stressing a sense of desperation and anguish - but the downside can also be that it puts the singer rather more into a staged role, a little removed from personal immersion in the feelings expressed in those parts of the song. Carrie has said that she would find this song difficult to perform live - and if this more detached, role playing style is the one that helps her deal with more heart-rending topics, then we must accept that that may be the price of including such significant themes on her albums. This may not become a single, but I consider it one of the corner stones of the album.

    SPINNING BOTTLES

    Drinking references have played have an increasing part in Carrie's songs, on both "Storyteller" and "Cry Pretty", and this album, in particular, shows how they can be used, in the stronger songs, to reflect a range of themes, including desperation, recovery and abuse. This is one of the starker, and in my view, most effective, songs, which focuses on the way alcohol addiction can destroy a relationship. The song is skilfully constructed, to show first the apparent harmlessness of the over-indulgence, by comparing it to a children's game with empty bottles, and moving on to the anguish of the wife, waiting at home, not knowing when, or if, the addict will return - then considering the addict's own perspective, wanting to quit, but knowing he won't, and that it will finally lead to separation, before collapsing in a lonely hotel room.
    The track begins with a sparse piano arrangement, and later two keyboard parts (played by Dave Cohen and David Garcia) intertwine, being joined by melodic lines from 'cello (Austin Hoke), and pedal steel (Dan Dugmore). This amounts to one of the more contained musical arrangements on the album, but the interaction between the instruments is more complex than it might at first appear, and its relative lack of additional effects brings out the disparity between apparent normality, and the mounting despair of the lyric. It enables Carrie to concentrate on a more intimate, emotional, vocal delivery, which I think proves to be one of the most expressive of her career. I've been hoping that she'd explore song constructions and vocal deliveries more along these lines, as her career matures, and I hope this development continues.

    LOVE WINS

    This song has attracted considerable attention, much of it focusing on whether it can be seen as a Gay anthem (for which it's both been applauded as a relatively bold step in the context of her career limitations, and also criticized for not going far enough). But that entire area of interpretation requires the listener to relate the song to an external back story - something which doesn't actually appear in the song itself. I think it's worth emphasizing that the two actual issues that are highlighted are the effects of a shooting, and the political divisions that are so apparent in society today (and not just in the USA). As these are specifically mentioned, they deserve to be considered as issues that Carrie considered important in her choice and development of this song (especially as it is the second album track to focus on shooting). Beyond that, the song is a general appeal for love - something that any listener can apply, regardless of context. That generality can be a strength - we need that uplifting message, and it certainly deserves support. But, sadly, I do feel that the wish to make the song as general as possible has led Carrie into its relative weakness. The main problem for me does not lie in what it may fail to say (I understand her wish not to see the song lost in bickering and controversy) - but rather in what I see as its relative failure to live up to the overall feel and spirit of this innovative album. It involves virtually the same musicians as appear in "Kingdom" (which I regard as a much more exceptional and successful track), and they provide some pleasing touches in the musical backing - but the overall production here seems less innovative and more wary of challenging listeners' expectations. And, for me, that becomes even more apparent in the vocal style that Carrie mainly adopts, after the opening stanzas. I'm not questioning that she is, indeed, an exceptionally gifted singer, nor that a great many listeners do relate to this style. But the fact that this seems mainly a reprise of a style that she's used many times before, with an emphasis on power singing, hastened delivery, and considerable lyrical repetition, makes it appear something of a backward-looking approach and a rather problematic fit for much of the rest of the album. That does make this a rather disappointing song for me - something I regret in view of its potential and its positive message.


    END UP WITH YOU

    Another of Carrie's interesting use of cross genre influences, this song is one that might fit well into today's Mainstream radio chart. The mix of musical backgrounds is a particularly striking feature here. Of Hillary Lindsey's co-writers, Brett McLaughlin (who also records as Leland) is generally known for his Pop work (though he has also worked in Country with Kelsie Ballerini) - while Will Weatherley has, for example, also worked on Dan Tyminski's innovative album "Southern Gothic", both as writer and electronic programmer, as he is here. The music also reflects this innovative mix, with a leading role given to Rob McNelley, who has won Guitarist of the Year at the ACM, and performs with Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band, as well as being a leading session player in progressive Country Rock. Here, he shares the rhythm role with Nir Z, an Israeli drummer with a distinguished career in General Music, working for example with Genesis, and John Mayer. (Carrie's own interest in percussion is also seen here, as she adds her own support to the mix).
    There will, inevitably, be those who regret the tendency to blur the Mainstream's musical identity in stylistic mixing - but this also occurs in many of the Roots fields, where it usually seems more acceptable. The key point is often not the fact that it occurs, but more the way in which it is done. In this example, I think Carrie has taken steps to handle the experimentation along lines sympathetic to current trends, but also in a way that evokes interest in the forms the innovation takes. For those listeners who prefer a soaring, pure voice led delivery, the staccato, singalong lyrical couplets of this song may not be among their favourite Carrie styles, but it is unrealistic to expect an artist to become stereotyped to a particular style, and I think this could stand out favourably among many of the contemporary radio offerings.

    KINGDOM

    Leaving aside the bonus track (which, for all its merits, has no production or thematic connection to the album as a whole), "Kingdom" is effectively the album's closing track - a placing that Carrie traditionally reserves for a song that has a special meaning for her, and which has often been different, in style and theme, from the rest of her albums. This time, the personal meaning is certainly there - but rather than being an outlier, I see it this time as a culmination of the production innovation and stylistic growth that Carrie and David Garcia have been experimenting with on this album. And in that, I would rate it as a success, and one of the best songs on the album. I love the way the production develops through this song. It could be described as an increasing build up in sound and power - but that would also oversimplify its complexity, for there are also a variety of sections, where different instrumental and vocal textures predominate - and that is what holds the interest. Although they are very different songs, "Good Girl" is the earlier one that most reminds me of the complexity and surprises in the music that can make a song exceptional. In "Kingdom", I love the acoustic beginning, led by Ilya Toshinskyi and Dan Dugmore, with special touches like the pedal steel echoing Carrie's opening hum. I like the part where Chris McHugh's drums dominate. The speciality string playing of Kris Wilkinson (viola) and Carole Rabinowitz (cello) - two ladies who, between them, have played with so many of the great names of the contemporary scene, in Roots music and well beyond - is effective here. And Carrie's multiple tracking of her own voice in the latter part of the song was a bold additional element that worked well, in my opinion. We know that Carrie loves power vocals and strong production - and I have found this approach overwhelming in some of her earlier work (her Greatest Hits album, where the songs included lacked the counter-balance of the more varied textures of their original albums was a case in point). The power elements occur in "Kingdom" - but here, they seem more in context, with the layered production itself supplying the variety of interest, and I prefer this approach to some of her more "concert stage" vocals.
    Much of the song is built around Carrie's own lfe, with domestic details, due weight given to her personal faith, and a willingness to acknowledge that life can pose personal challenges, even for the glamorous and most succesful. But, at the same time, God, Home and Family are classic Country themes, and the stanza about hard times seems aimed at people generally, and this can be a relateable song for many in her audience. I get the impression that much of what Carrie wanted to say and do with this album finds its conclusion in this song.
    WOW! Reading your review made me appreciate music MORE, more than before reading this, most specially, all the songs in Cry Pretty album. Thanks. I really appreciate this.

  • #15
    Huge Carrie Follower Momin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Farawayhills View Post
    SOUTHBOUND

    While the more memorable songs on this album lean towards sadness and retrospection, this track breaks that mood with a nod towards the prevailing Mainstream liking for party songs. That may increase its appeal to radio, and to listeners seeking a lighter, upbeat song to balance the more serious tracks. Those considerations may justify its inclusion, but for me, this is a disappointing song, which seems an ill fit for the mixture of progressive innovation and deep genre references that characterize the album as a whole. It is Carrie's second venture into "getaway" songs, but in my opinion, her earlier "One Way Ticket" showed a greater individuality, having more of the feel of a parody, and a touch of defiance in telling the boss to "stick it". By contrast, I feel that "Southbound" seems too accepting of "bro country" conventions of parties, boys catching the eye of pretty girls, tan lines and outdoor dancing. The music seems to include a slight Louisiana Cajun influence, but that strikes me as virtually the only concession to variation, in a rather obvious pitch to an arguably over-used Mainstream sub-genre. Carrie has always enjoyed some fun songs - but her singles have usually striven to add depth and originality to the general run of radio hits. This, I feel, would risk that reputation, and it's an album track I'd be inclined to skip.
    As always, I find your thoughts very thorough and insightful. Thank you for this!

    I will slightly disagree with your review of Southbound. I definitely do think it might be a misfit in terms of its vibe. It doesn't go with the overall emotional depth of the album (even a light song like End Up With You, to me, seems to have some depth to it - perhaps because of knowing Carrie's personal life recently, wanting to be with her loved one after everything that's gone down). However, I'm also inclined to think Carrie perhaps wanted to make a female version of a "bro-country" song. She has been very vocal this era about the treatment of women on radio, the similarity of songs by male artists and the portrayal of women in those songs. I believe it was a radio interview where she said something along the lines of, "I don't do cut-off jeans". Not saying that she personally doesn't do that but saying that she doesn't approve of it being used as a recognizable attire for women in songs by male artists. Going by that, I find Southbound as a party song by a female artist, only better. Compared to party songs on the radio, all of which sound the exact same, Southbound still seems to have distinct music. Sure, it includes some conventions such as boys trying to catch the eye of the pretty girls; I still find that more than fine compared to girls wearing skimpy clothes and dancing around the men, being objectified in those songs. Here, Katie is still shown to be in control while also having a good time, letting go of her worries. If I fit the song in the overall 'story' of the album, Southbound can be a representation of one of those days, while you're coping with trauma, where you just get out and are able to get into the vibe of trying to forget and shake off the pain that is otherwise encompassing you.
    While Carrie has had other fun, letting go, letting loose, being carefree type of songs in the past (We're Young and Beautiful on SH, One Way Ticket on BA, and generally other fun songs too), she could have made them into typical party songs that are on the airwaves these days. None of her songs, singles or non-singles, include the party song conventions. In fact, she had more incentive to do that earlier since they would have found greater success when the dislike of party songs was not as prevalent and audiences and critics were more accepting of tropes. But for her to include one at this stage in her career with an album like this, to me, seems like she's trying to make a statement as a woman and trying to take control of how a woman is portrayed in a party song. Kind of like giving it to the boys in her own way and being better at it than they are.

  • #16
    Carrie Fans Legend teesharky's Avatar
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    So after the CMAs - there is no more promo until the Elvis special in January right? That was pretaped. But she will be getting ready for the baby in December etc. it should be coming soon after Christmas since she said early next year.


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