Sunday, October 23, 2011

Music Review: Scotty McCreery's "Clear as Day"

To be honest, I was fairly excited when I found out I would be reviewing Scotty McCreery this week. Like many people, I followed American Idol last season, and found myself favoring him above most others. It seemed fairly well established that, were he to have a career in music, his genre would certainly be country. Not being an avid country fan, I did not know what to expect.

If I had had expectations, however, Scotty would have met them- mostly. His new album, "Clear as Day" is a country album with an obvious pop edge, but that's to be expected, considering who gave him the contract.

There were definitely similarities with other country artists; the vocals, especially when double-tracked, had a Josh Gracin feel to them- the rough 'n' tumble sound on the peppy songs, but also the suave smoothness on the slower tracks. In terms of the subject matter of the lyrics themselves, I was reminded of Lee Brice; he sings in a down-to-earth manner about growing up in a big family with firm parents, or about working hard to pay dues. Such is a fair amount of country music, but the similarity with Brice came to me in particular. However, I did notice a few cliché mannerisms used, especially on "You Make That Look Good." As a side note, this is something I would caution the songwriters against- writing about a truck, or about picking up girls in a country song has become overused; even hackneyed.

Generally, the mixing of the album was fairly solid. I appreciated the variety in the instrumentation, especially where fiddle, piano, and ukulele were used. It helped to distinguish certain songs from others they otherwise could have been interchanged with. On "The Trouble With Girls", the strings combined with the piano created a sound that was similar to Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, to some extent, (despite the huge difference in vocals).

Put succinctly, there were some things that the record company did well on, and some that could use some work. I've included an analysis of a couple of songs; one for each of these two categories:

Water Tower Town- Track 5- This song earned a 2 out of 5 with me. McCreery's voice is much better suited for laid-back, more acoustic songs, and ends up sounding forced and unnatural on driving songs such as this one. While it helps to add variety to the pace of the album, the vocals do not measure up to what they are on some of the more mellow songs. Additionally, the drumming combined with the electric guitar robbed this song of an authentic country sound- it was rock with a country edge. Which does not suit McCreery's natural voice.

That's not to say to eliminate jovial, fast songs; but to mellow out the songs that are fast and jovial. "Write My Number On Your Hand" is a perfect example- it's upbeat and lively, but without the dominating percussion, or excessive electric guitar. (This one actually uses the ukulele as the backbone of the song, and was a very pleasurable listen).

Dirty Dishes- Track 9- Interesting approach with lyrics; how most of them are a prayer by a mother who wants the best for her children. This is where I was reminded of Lee Brice; the song opens up with an old saw most people hear from their parents. What earned this song a 4 out of 5 from me, however, was the approach taken with the music itself. It was quite a mellow approach, which made excellent use of piano, slide guitar, and strings in the later part. This here is the main point that I cannot stress enough; the more acoustic, mellow songs are what Scotty does best. It is much, much more fitting for his voice, and his style of delivery. There is a clear difference in how comfortable he feels singing a mellow song, as opposed to a driving song. With some innovation, I am sure the record company could find a way to emphasize acoustic/mellow sounding songs more, without making the album sound homogeneous.

The album as a whole earns 4 stars out of 5. McCreery has a niche, which is evident on the album, and a good amount of potential, but he should put the pop/rock elements of his music on the back burner, and focus on his country side. The singers that have a voice so inclined towards a genre like that should seldom deviate far from it, because oftentimes the result will be less natural than their inclination. Overall, the vocals were mostly strong, and the album was very well mixed. I would highly recommend it.

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