Album Review: Lady Antebellum – Need You Now

Stephen Deusner | January 25th, 2010

lady-antebellum-need-you-nowWhile neither surprising nor necessarily unwarranted, the buzz surrounding Lady Antebellum is reaching deafening levels. They have become country’s first great hope for 2010, and Need You Now tries valiantly to live up to that mantle. Fittingly ambitious but only fitfully inspired, it’s a huge record that sounds expensive, slick, and strategized. With its Bon Jovi guitars, U2 choruses, and Coldplay pianos, Need You Now is calibrated for broad appeal, and at times the human musicians seem a bit overwhelmed by the behemoth that Lady Antebellum has become.

Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott, and Dave Haywood prove themselves to be inventive studio artists. The gravelly guitar that opens “Perfect Day” coalesces into a tectonic bassline that lends the song its danceable rhythm, and “Stars Tonight” indulges arena-ready chants and shamelessly goofy guitar riffs that suggest the band are AC/DC fans.

In this regard, the title track is a stand-out. After the gimmicky voicemails that open the album, the song locks into an elegant acoustic shuffle complete with bursts of George Harrison guitars. Everything highlights that million-dollar chorus, and Hillary Scott sings the hell out of it. A capable vocalist who is just now showing the true reach of her interpretive talent, she finds a way to channel both desire and despair. The way she sings the word “need” is a hook in and of itself.

Scott gives a commanding performance. Charles Kelley… not so much. When he sings lead on the second verse, the song loses some of its power. Kelley is the Kristian Bush of Lady Antebellum: a guiding music presence who is thoroughly overshadowed by his leading lady. It doesn’t help that he gets the worst song on Need You Now, a trite, plodding anthem titled “Hello World.” Sticky with symphonic sap, the songs builds carefully and patiently into a bombastic finish that probably works a lot better live, in front of a sea of lighters or cell phones. On record, though, it’s pretty ridiculous–especially sequenced mid-album–and Kelley sounds boorishly self-serious.

What makes “Hello World” so egregious—not to mention so out of character—is that Lady Antebellum clearly know how to deliver a country power ballad that is both smart and emotional. Closer “Ready to Love Again” and “If I Knew Then” display real poise and restraint, highlighting the vocal interplay between Kelley and Scott’s harmonies. In fact, as Need You Now progresses, Lady A jettison some of the rock experiments in favor of a more modest sound. Rather than diminishing their idiosyncrasies, it actually highlights the songwriting and singing.

“Perfect Day” in particular rushes by with a fresh momentum, as Scott describes an afternoon swimming at the lake and an evening listening to “all those feel-good songs.” What makes it more than just a calculated weekend ham (there are hundreds of similar songs) is the bittersweet realization that such joys are fleeting, that the next day will necessarily be less than perfect. “What I’d give if I could find a way to stay lost in this moment now,” Scott sings wistfully.

That’s a poignantly life-size moment on an album that could use many more. Too often Need You Now sounds studiously anonymous in its eager-to-please enormity, as if any hint of down-home personality might preempt its crossover appeal. They’re taking risks, but also playing it too safe.

3 Stars

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  1. waynoe
    January 25, 2010 at 8:35 am

    Zac Brown Band is light years ahead of this group. But during the awards shows you can see the “industry” anointing Lady A. Even they said in theor acceptance speech that Zac Brown Band had a netter year – and they did.

    But the march towards MTV-with boots on music continues and Lady A fits the bill more than other groups.

    And the mention of Bush in Sugarland is correct as well. They are about as much a duo as Madonna is country.

  2. waynoe
    January 25, 2010 at 8:36 am

    Obviously my spelling is challenged this morning.

  3. PaulaW
    January 25, 2010 at 8:44 am

    I was never particularly a ‘fan’ of Lady A until last year when I heard them perform acoustically (one guitar, three voices) at Douglas Corner. From the first note/word they had me mezmerized. I’m still not a big fan of their records (with the exception of the single ‘Need You Now’) but these are three of the most talented individuals I’ve ever heard. I still dont particularly like most of their stuff I hear on the radio (nor do I particularly dislike it – I’m just kind of neutral) but I do hope I get the chance to hear them acoustically again sometime.

  4. Kim
    January 25, 2010 at 8:50 am

    They borrowed Rascal Flatts’ stylist for the cover looks like.

  5. Kelly
    January 25, 2010 at 9:14 am

    As always Stephen, well written, good sir!

  6. Sam G.
    January 25, 2010 at 9:42 am

    I haven’t given the album a listen yet, but that will be a contender for Worst Album Cover of the Year.

  7. Isabelle
    January 25, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Actually I’m a big fan of Lady Antebellum but I have to agree with Sam G about the album cover.
    I can only add to Paulaw. Their live show is great and even more so their acoustic numbers. Their face expressions going with the songs bring the songs alive.
    As with the new album I haven’t fully made my opinion yet. Some songs I heard are great, others
    ok.
    Stephen did make some accurate statements that couldn’t be said better. In my opinion maybe just a little to pessimistic, but great!

  8. Leeann Ward
    January 25, 2010 at 10:10 am

    A lot of people think Hillary Scott is not a good singer. I haven’t noticed it myself, but it’s interesting that there are two camps on this one. At least with Taylor Swift, it’s pretty much accepted.

  9. Steve M.
    January 25, 2010 at 10:32 am

    Anytime a review of a country album offers a comparison to Cold Play, you know that can’t be good. The cover art reminds me of a 70s album, and not the good kind like The Wall of Dark Side on the Moon.

  10. Matt B.
    January 25, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Charles Kelley is this group’s Kristian Bush? Really? Aside from that note, I can see why you went where you did with this review.

  11. Cardsgal
    January 25, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    @Stephen — I’ve got to say that I disagree with you about Charles’ and Hillary’s vocals on “Need You Now.” As Leeann referenced above, many people think Scott is not a good singer, and I am one of them. Kelley, however, absolutely blew me away the first time I heard him live — at Keith Urban’s All for the Hall benefit last Oct. I’d never liked this band’s singles, but when they sang “Need You Now,” dude impressed the heck out of me with the strenth of his voice. And, it didn’t hurt that this is a great song. I thought Lady A stole the show that night in the midst of a lineup of superstars.

  12. Jon G.
    January 25, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    I think both Scott and Kelley are good but undistinguished singers. They both have nice enough voices – rich, textured, aesthetically appealing voices – but they’re not too different from a lot of other singers in various genres of music, and I’ve never been absolutely blown away emotionally by either of their vocal performances. (“Need You Now” was very good, though. It’s about the only song that’s come close to that. I liked it instantly upon first hearing it.)

  13. K
    January 25, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    “Charles Kelley is this group’s Kristian Bush.”

    If you’re going to go that route, I think Dave would fit that role better.

    I really like this group, and I really wanted to like the new album. I was very disappointed in t
    this effort- The only songs I liked were the three released as Itunes singles.

    The songs are all forgettable, the production blends in every song after a few listens, and I felt like a lot of the songs lacked that certain spark that makes them so unique and likeable. All the love songs sounded the same to me, and there were too many. Some of the upbeat songs are enjoyable, but few display their signature harmonies.

  14. Jon G.
    January 25, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    K, that’s exactly what I thought.

  15. Leeann Ward
    January 25, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Yeah, I think K’s comparison may be more accurate.

  16. kay
    January 25, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    I can’t believe that we’re comparing Charles Kelley to Kristian Bush. When their first album came out, immediately Things People Say was my favorite song simply because of Kelley’s powerful and emotional performance. Although I haven’t heard this album yet -I am anxiously awaiting tomorrow-I am hoping that he sounds nothing like how you’ve described him here.

  17. Matt B.
    January 25, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    I have to agree with K w/r/t Kelley.

    Perhaps me liking ‘atmospheric’ pop a-la Coldplay is why I like “Hello World,” or perhaps it’s because Tom Douglas co-wrote it.

  18. Blake Boldt
    January 25, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    I’m sticking by my Twitter assessment of this album: One Tree Hill with twang.

    I do disagree with the Kelley/Bush comparison, too. When I first heard “Love Don’t Live Here” on the radio, I was impressed by how vital and fresh Lady A’s sound was, owing a great deal to Kelley’s raspy growl. “Need You Now” rang with that same immediacy and proved Hillary Scott as a worthy vocalist in her right. The rest of this album seems tame in comparison and built almost solely for mainstream success, though it does have its share of bright spots. Three stars is about right.

    The thing that bugged me is how bloody serious it is. It’s a 40-minute midlife crisis set to anthem rock arrangements. I wish Lady A would’ve had a little more fun with this one. Even “American Honey” with its light production and naive visions of the past is, at its core, pretty somber.

  19. Noeller
    January 25, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    No question, Kelley is a dynamite singer. Honestly, I think he’s got a better voice than HS, IMO.

    With all that being said, these guys aren’t in the same area code as ZBB right now.

  20. Rick
    January 25, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    When L.A. first appeared on the Opry, Hillary Scott’s vocal performance was pretty dreadful as she was rarely on pitch. I also saw them live back when their first hit single was just starting to break and Hillary’s vocals were very pedestrian, but thankfully she has improved dramatically. If only Taylor Swift could do likewise…

    L.A. makes “Power Pop For The People” that just happens to fall under the contemporary country banner at this time. They are pop-rockers at heart and a little bit of added twang does not make them country. There isn’t a hillbilly bone among the three of them…

  21. Ben Milam
    January 25, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    fleetwood mac + twang – talent = lady antebellum

  22. Nicolas
    January 25, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    I don’t get how Charles Kelley is like Kristian Bush either; he is overall a better vocalist than Hilary Scott, as far as the debut album goes, but she has gotten better IMHO.

    That said, I do agree that Hilary stomps all over Charles in “Need You Now” but he was more of the frontrunner on their first few singles

  23. J.R. Journey
    January 25, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    I think Blake’s assessment is pretty accurate.

    After the title track, I did expect to enjoy this album more than I did. I think I’m most overwhelmed by the lack of any real powerhouse moments like ‘Need You Now’ (the song) was blessed with.

  24. Stephen H.
    January 26, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    I see Kelley as sort of a Kristian Bush, if only because Dave Haywood is turning into a Kristen Hall in terms of his vocal role with the band.

  25. K
    January 26, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    If anyone is interested, the album is available for 3.99 over at Amazon.

  26. Emgee
    January 26, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I’ve listened to this album through twice, now, and I have to wonder how anyone can label it as “unrememberable” or “forgettable.”

  27. K
    January 26, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    “I’ve listened to this album through twice, now, and I have to wonder how anyone can label it as “unrememberable” or “forgettable.”

    I don’t see anyone cannot label the album anything BUT unmemorable or forgettable.
    This does not live up to the talent of Lady A, and it’s very disapointing. They have so much talent; it’s a shame that they chose to waste it on such vain, bland material.

    I’ve even listened to this album twice, hoping that maybe that was some reedming quality I missed the first time. I really want to like it, but I just can’t. Mainstream albums seem to get bland quicker by the day. It used to be that artists used to create mudane albums by the third, fourth, fifth or sixth album; not the first or second.

    “The thing that bugged me is how bloody serious it is. It’s a 40-minute midlife crisis set to anthem rock arrangements. I wish Lady A would’ve had a little more fun with this one. Even “American Honey” with its light production and naive visions of the past is, at its core, pretty somber.” Excatly. The youthful energy, spunk, and sass of Lady A’s music is what makes them unique, and there is little to none of that on this effort.

    All the members are still young and energetic themselves; I feel like that’s the kind of music they should be making. They have plenty of time to record grave and somber songs; why are there so many on this album, when it’s so early in their career?

    The most irritating factor about this album for me is that Lady A is capable of producing and singing on great country-pop songs. Lots of current country artists milk the country-pop style, but that doesn’t mean it’s down well. “Need You Now” is a shining example of how this style can work and create a really interesting and fresh. The rest of the album, however, fails to deliver on that once encouraging promise.

  28. Emgee
    January 26, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    It’s all about the music. The music is just flat out, good. That’s all that matters, really, and the music here certainly achieves that.

    Perhaps Lady A was GOING for a more serious album this time around, showing versatility. But there is still plenty of up-beat material there.

  29. stormy
    January 26, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    That Lady A’s album is going to sell so many more copies than Patty Griffin’s makes a tiny part of my soul die.

  30. Emgee
    January 26, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    If that makes your soul die, then it probably wouldn’t have lasted too much longer anyway.

  31. Emgee
    January 26, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    “When L.A. first appeared on the Opry, Hillary Scott’s vocal performance was pretty dreadful as she was rarely on pitch. I also saw them live back when their first hit single was just starting to break and Hillary’s vocals were very pedestrian, but thankfully she has improved dramatically. If only Taylor Swift could do likewise…”

    I too have seen Lady A live, and to say that she was off pitch is just ridiculous. ANd if you think Taylor Swift can’t sing, then you have absolutely ZERO idea what vocal talent is.

  32. Steve M.
    January 26, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Well as long as the autotune is working, Taylor Swift can sing.

  33. Emgee
    January 26, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    And as long as the9513 keeps writing, you’ll have someone to tell you what to like and what not to like.

  34. stormy
    January 26, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Emgee: Well, it would get pretty emaciated feeding on what the mainstream has to offer of late, wouldn’t it?

  35. Emgee
    January 26, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    I’ve noticed Stormy that you always tend to agree with whatever it is that the9513 tells you is good and what they tell you is bad. Don’t you have a mind of your own?

  36. Steve Harvey
    January 27, 2010 at 3:47 am

    I ’ve noticed Stormy that you always tend to agree with whatever it is that the9513 tells you is good and what they tell you is bad.
    That must be pretty tricky for Stormy, considering that the9513 is made up of a staff, who all have individual and sometimes conflicting opinions about music – if Jim Malec reviews a single and CM Wilcox reviews the album the single is from, and they disagree about that song, what is Stormy to think then?

  37. Jon
    January 27, 2010 at 7:26 am

    Well as long as the autotune is working, Taylor Swift can sing.

    Gibble-gabble about autotune is a sure sign of cluelessness about how music is actually being made these days, because the odds are overwhelming that your favorite artists, whoever they are, tune their vocals. Unless they haven’t made any records in the past couple of decades.

  38. Jon
    January 27, 2010 at 7:27 am

    Good to know that Stormy thinks her soul is better than ours.

  39. Razor X
    January 27, 2010 at 8:04 am

    ANd if you think Taylor Swift can’t sing, then you have absolutely ZERO idea what vocal talent is.

    Actually, the consensus seems to be, even among many of Taylor’s fans, that she is not a great vocalist.

  40. Jon
    January 27, 2010 at 8:31 am

    Actually, the consensus seems to be, even among many of Taylor’s fans, that she is not a great vocalist.

    Actually, “not a great vocalist” and “can’t sing” don’t mean the same thing.

  41. Jon G.
    January 27, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Personally, I don’t think that she can sing, and I wouldn’t call her a great vocalist, either.

    I think she’s a ‘dreadful’ singer and a good vocalist, nothing more and nothing less.

  42. K
    January 27, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Taylor has performances that are better than others, but she is hardly a decent singer. That being said though, I think people overlook her other talents a lot more because of it.

  43. sam (sam)
    January 27, 2010 at 10:42 am

    About Swift’s vocals and singing: In my humble view, they are “good enough” — in other words, they are not such a liability that she is unable to make engaging music. And the music she produces is more interesting to me than that of some artists whose vocals would be considered superior. Swift certainly can sing; or at least she can sing well enough for the task at hand of making popular recordings. I certainly think there are many better singers out there, but, again, Swift is more than up to the task at hand.

  44. Emgee
    January 27, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    “Actually, the consensus seems to be, even among many of Taylor’s fans, that she is not a great vocalist.”

    Actually, it’s not. You can’t take the opinions of Swift on this site as a serious gauge of people’s opinion of her vocal talent. Have you ever even heard her sing? Have you heard the songs “White Horse” or “Tim McGraw”? Listen to those and try to make yourself believe that she can’t sing.

  45. Jon G.
    January 27, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Done.

  46. Razor X
    January 27, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    About Swift’s vocals and singing: In my humble view, they are “good enough”

    And the bar gets lowered yet again …

    Have you ever even heard her sing? Have you heard the songs “White Horse” or “Tim McGraw”?

    Yes.

  47. Emgee
    January 27, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Razor X, I’m STILL yet to see you ever comment on here on anything you actually like.

    If you honestly believe that Swift can’t sing, then persist in your delusions if you want to.

  48. Razor X
    January 27, 2010 at 1:24 pm
  49. Jon
    January 27, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    “The bar gets lowered” – a slightly less rude way (because it’s in the passive voice) of saying “my taste is better than yours.”

  50. Razor X
    January 27, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    No, it’s actually a commentary on Sam’s lukewarm defense of Swift’s singing ability. Why should we have to settle for “good enough” instead of “great”?

  51. Jon
    January 27, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Because what is or isn’t “great” singing is a matter of taste, not something objective. Sheesh.

  52. Razor X
    January 27, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Because what is or isn’t “great” singing is a matter of taste, not something objective. Sheesh

    You’re missing the point. The point is, defending something by saying it is “good enough” is damning it with faint praise. SHEESH.

  53. Jon G.
    January 27, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Of course, almost everything we’re talking about here is subjective. Such is the nature of art.

    And, honestly, everyone here, to some extent or another, probably thinks “my taste is better than yours.” Such is the nature of opinion (in mine).

    Also, Razor X, we don’t have to settle for anything. We do have to deal with the music available, but we don’t have to listen to Taylor Swift at all. We can also tell others what we think of her, which I do often. Very good writer, decent vocalist, terrible singer. Oops. I did it again.

  54. Jon
    January 27, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    @Razor X I’m not missing the point, I’m disagreeing with it, because the entire premise is wrong. There’s no bar to be lowered. Get it?

    @Jon G. My buddy Critter Eldridge of Punch Brothers recently tweeted:

    “Man Who Enjoys Thing Informed He Is Wrong http://onion.com/6QjnVU (via @TheOnion)”

    In my experience, creative folks generally don’t believe that their taste is better than anyone else’s. I think it’s because they tend to find that that degree of egotism gets in the way of actually being creative.

  55. Razor X
    January 27, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    @Razor X I’m not missing the point, I’m disagreeing with it, because the entire premise is wrong. There’s no bar to be lowered. Get it?

    When was the last time you recommended — or received a recommendation — on anything based on its being “good enough”?

  56. Jon
    January 27, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    @Razor X If you read Sam (Sam)’s entire post, instead of just taking two words out and pretending they’re the entire thing, I think he was clear enough.

  57. Troy
    January 27, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    @Razor X only one part of Taylor Swift was compared to good enough. Her writing brings it up to great.

    And for your point about settling for good instead of great. Jamey Johnson isn’t a great singer but people are settling for him. I guess the “bar was lowered” for him too.

  58. sam (sam)
    January 27, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Some points:

    Is “Good Enough” damning with faint praise: well, maybe, but in my post I say she is “good enough for the task at hand,” which in her case seems to be to make music that appeals to a broad audience. And she succeeds at that: there are a lot of people who buy her records, and those people (I assume) like her voice enough to buy her music. And that’s no small feat: its hard enough to get 200 people to like you, much less 2 million.

    So I guess I am saying “Taylor’s voice is “good enough” not to get in the way of being a musical superstar. That’s not damning with faint praise anymore than saying, “The Indianapolis Colts are “good enough” to go to the Superbowl” is damning with faint praise.

    Now, Swift is not my favorite act. In fact, I’ve never bought any of her music (although I do enjoy hearing her on the radio now and then). But when people say “She can’t sing” I have to wonder. Her singing obviously appeals to a lot of people. It will be objected that “popularity does not equal quality” or that “McDonalds sells a lot of burgers but they taste bad.”

    The problem with saying “popularity does not equal quality” is that it seems hard for people to agree on what quality is. Swift’s fans think she makes quality music, Gary Allan’s fans think he does, and Garth Brooks has fans who think the same of him. And there seems to be little hope of getting all those people to agree on exactly what is high quality or low quality.

    Ultimately Swift is pretty good at what she does, and what she does is by no means easy to do.

  59. sam (sam)
    January 27, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    My last sentence above may be unclear: I am not saying she is “objectively” a great singer. Rather, by saying “she is pretty good at what she does” I am saying she is good at making music that appeals to a large audience.

  60. Brady Vercher
    January 27, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    So I guess I am saying “Taylor’s voice is “good enough” not to get in the way of being a musical superstar. That’s not damning with faint praise anymore than saying, “The Indianapolis Colts are “good enough” to go to the Superbowl” is damning with faint praise.

    Actually, that’s not a very good analogy. The Colts competed against other teams to get to the Super Bowl. The formula for being “good enough” to get there is simple. Make the playoffs and win all your games once you do. Singers aren’t in that type of competition and the formula for reaching the top isn’t as clear-cut or based solely on talent, which is why commercial success doesn’t equal quality.

    The problem with saying “popularity does not equal quality” is that it seems hard for people to agree on what quality is.

    There isn’t a problem with saying popularity doesn’t equal quality, although it is true that any sort of consensus on what constitutes quality is nearly impossible.

    That being said, pretty much anything can be dismissed on the grounds of subjectivity, but comparatively speaking, Taylor Swift is not a good vocalist. However, to a certain degree, she does do a good job writing and recording songs that mask her vocal deficiencies.

    If someone wants to say that Taylor’s singing doesn’t bother them or that they like it, that’s all fine and dandy. I like Kristofferson, but I’m not gonna argue that he’s a good singer, although I do find more redemptive qualities in his singing than I do in Swift’s.

  61. Jon
    January 27, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    I like Kristofferson, but I’m not gonna argue that he’s a good singer

    Fair enough, I guess, but there are plenty of people here who have argued that he is a good singer – or at least good enough ;-). Me, I don’t see the point in differentiating between a “good” singer and a singer whose singing I like.

  62. Leeann Ward
    January 27, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Brady said: If someone wants to say that Taylor’s singing doesn’t bother them or that they like it, that’s all fine and dandy. I like Kristofferson, but I’m not gonna argue that he’s a good singer, although I do find more redemptive qualities in his singing than I do in Swift’s.

    Ditto!

  63. sam (sam)
    January 27, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Brady does make some very thoughtful points. Let me say this:

    I have to agree that “There isn’t a problem with saying populariy doesn’t equal quality.” You are right — the two are different concepts. My wording above was very sloppy.

    The point I was trying to make: Swift is well-liked by many, which suggests that her voice is “good enough” to at least not prevent her from making music that is loved by many. I think that’s no mean feat (regardless of the merit of Super Bowl analogies). Perhaps some will claim it is no accomplishment by claiming that Swift fans do not know quality music. But its hard to agree on what constitutes quality music and Swift fans will ciaim that they do know quality music. Who is right is hard to tell.

    I think this began with a claim that Swift “can’t sing.” No doubt by some standards neither Kristofferson nor Swift “can’t sing.” And yet their fans love them nonetheless. Whatever else may be said I think it fair to say that both are “good enough” to make music that is well loved. Again, that’s no mean feat.

  64. Jon G.
    January 27, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    Jon

    Fair enough, I suppose. But of course, the “creative folks generally don’t believe that their taste is better than anyone else’s” argument is subjective to your experience. I could even argue that the only reason you commented on that particular segment was some measure of pleasure derived from ‘proving me wrong,’ which would be egotism on your part. I won’t, though, because I don’t claim the ability to read minds; I’m not that egotistical. ;)

    I will say that I think that, if you are sincerely arguing a point and genuinely believe in whatever you’re arguing for, you have to believe that your taste is ‘better’ or that you’re better at pursuasion than who you’re arguing with. Even if you don’t think your opinion ‘better’ than someone else’s, it goes without saying that you think it’s ‘right.’ That said, you could just be trying to communicate a different side of the story, which I think happens quite a bit on this site, for instance.

    I will also say that I do believe that 1) everyone has a God-given right to their opinion, 2) all opinions are not necessarily equal (those that can be supported more convincingly or those based on greater experience in a particular subject, as yours may have been, generally have greater gravity than those based on pedestrian observation; this is more true of science and politics than art, however), and 3) I do sometimes think that, based on #2, my ‘taste’ may be better than someone else’s. But all of this is becoming a little redundant, so I’ll leave with the one opinion I want to remembered by on this particular post:
    Onion=hilarious

  65. Steve M.
    January 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Here is the difference between Kristofferson and Swift. One was a Rhodes Scholar, the other was a sheltered home school GED graduate.

  66. Jon G.
    January 27, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Just to post my take on a topic that has been brought up:
    Swift is a mediocre, if not horrendous, singer but a better-than-average vocalist.
    Kristofferson is a bad singer but a tremendously skilled – great – vocalist.

  67. Jon G.
    January 27, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    You know, I realized how unclear my above post may have been. When I say ‘singer,’ I’m looking at the long-standing technical standards that include range and volume, as well as the most widely-accepted modern interpretations of these standards (translation: I’m looking at classical and pop music).

    When I say vocalist, I am thinking more of how the artist’s vocals impact myself emotionally.

    By these loose definitions, Carrie Underwood would be a good singer and a bad vocalist, in my opinion. I hope that makes sense.

  68. stormy
    January 27, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Also, Kristofferson wrote Sunday Morning Coming Down. Swift wrote Shoulda Said No.

  69. K
    January 27, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    “Here is the difference between Kristofferson and Swift. One was a Rhodes Scholar, the other was a sheltered home school GED graduate.”

    Taylor was a straight-A student before she was taught at home. It doesn’t matter how or where you get your education; that does not determine intelligence in any way. Taylor is an intelligent and insightful person. She isn’t the best public speaker, but a lot of that is her age.

    Whoever made the comparison between Kris and Taylor; I’m sorry, but that’s downright ridculous. Taylor is a 19-year-old girl who sings about what she knows. She has little life experience, and has no long-term relationships to draw from. Kris is the complete opposite; he has decades more experience in life and relationships, not to mention he is more mature and has more variety in his music because of his age and experience as a songwriter.

    I think Taylor is average as a singer when she performs songs that are more appropriate for her (very) limited range. I don’t think that happens often enough though, and Taylor doesn’t seem to have learned what fits her voice and what doesnt.

    I think what tends to bother me about her as a singer is that she writes all of her own music, lyrics, melodies, chords, and she basically knows the music inside and out because it’s written by her. What I really don’t understand is how she can perform her songs that she produced and created herself, yet she still cannot replicate them live. As the singer and songwriter of her material, it’s disturbing that she doesn’t know what works for her. Maybe that will change with age, but I’m not holding out hope.

    I think Taylor is a creative and engaging performer, and an excellent writer for her age, but I just cannot get past her vocal shortcomings. To be fair, there are plenty of other singers in the business who have the same deficiencies, but for some reason I can’t give the same pass to Taylor. Ironically, I think “Fearless” is an outstanding, fresh-sounding and well-crafted-pop record though.

    I hope she matures as a songwriter, but her recent efforts, “Jump Then Fall” and “Today Was A Fairytale,” are in the same old vein of immature, teenage puppy-love. She’s twenty years old, and I’m ready to see her grow as a writer.

    This is a niave question, but what is the true difference between a singer and a vocalist?

  70. Leeann Ward
    January 27, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    Hey now, Steve M…I was homeschooled for five years and I have a Master’s degree. I think Swift was homeschooled for less. There’s no doubt that she’s a bright young woman.

  71. Steve M.
    January 27, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    What makes her bright? I don’t sense any intellectual curiosity in her work, no sense of any bigger questions then puppy love. Sure, some of that may be generational, Kristofferson matured in a different age, but I highly doubt that she is capable at any age of producing a line like “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”

  72. Jon G.
    January 28, 2010 at 12:03 am

    K

    Good points. I’ll agree to a lot of that.

    Again, when I personally continued using the singer/vocalist distinction, I thought of the singer part as relating to, well, the actual singing on a technical level and the vocalist on an emotional level. The thing about these classical/modern standards is that they generate very cookie-cutter singers. There exists, theoretically if not always practically, a measure of perfection. Technical singers strive to meet this standard measurement. It’s all about what notes they hit, how long they can hold them, that kind of thing. Because they’re so focused on that, their vocals often seem cold and dispassionate to people who don’t really use/recognize or understand these aspects.
    However, there are other artists (Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, Kenny Rogers, etc.) who are terrible when you use these standards, yet they can convey so much more passion than certain technically good singers. It’s more about the feeling than the aesthetics. And people have different opinions about which one is more important and how much so and how much an artist can lack in either area and still be good. Personally, I tend to like people who are a little of both, but if I had to choose, I’d pick a good vocalist over a good singer any day.

  73. Brady Vercher
    January 28, 2010 at 1:36 am

    @Jon G: Singer and vocalist are interchangeable. I realize you’re trying to distinguish between technical proficiency and emotive ability, but I don’t think either of those terms actually makes that distinction.

    Anyways, it’d be nice if we could get back on topic a little and quit talking about Taylor Swift every time her name pops up.

  74. Thomas
    January 28, 2010 at 4:49 am

    …i already thought i was the only one who couldn’t make a profound distinction between the terms singer and vocalist. thanks for saving me the time going digging, brady.

  75. Jon G.
    January 28, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Brady

    While everyone may not use the distinction – they don’t – I was simply continuing the one implied by Jon. And it’s just what I think seems to run true with the way they are used in popular culture. But yeah, I am the only one on this site who used those explicit meanings. Other people had, I think, been using the implied distinction…when K asked what said distinction was, I felt obliged to re-offer up my interpretation.

    And that’s completely hilarious about Taylor Swift…I had thought of mentioning Clint Black or another neotraditionalist singer just to see if I could get away from talking about her again, or just plain asking, “So…what about that Lady A?”

  76. Jon G.
    January 28, 2010 at 8:09 am

    That post is ridiculous. Sorry. Here.

    1. Not everyone uses that distinction. I did. I think others were, too.

    2. Let’s talk about Lady A.

  77. Jon
    January 28, 2010 at 8:37 am

    @Jon G. While everyone may not use the distinction – they don’t – I was simply continuing the one implied by Jon.

    I don’t think I implied that I made any such distinction. In fact, I think I pretty clearly said the opposite – that I don’t think such a distinction is useful. In my opinion, “technically proficient” is a largely meaningless term; it’s used almost exclusively to underline an opinion that a given singer fails to convey emotion. I have never seen a set of genre-independent “technical” standards for singing codified anywhere, and I don’t believe one exists.

    And as further evidence of the murkiness of the concept, I offer up the fact that for everyone who uses the singer/vocalist distinction the way that you do, there’s at least one other person who makes the same distinction but uses the words in exactly the opposite way: “x is a vocalist, but y – now there’s a singer.”

  78. Leeann Ward
    January 28, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Steve M., Swift is obviously a different artist than Kristofferson. I’d take Kristofferson over Swift in a heartbeat, but they’re not even vying for the same type of audience. It’s not like Kristofferson hasn’t written his share of silly songs anywayy.

    Mostly, I just didn’t like the personal attack on Swift’s intelligence as having anything to do with her music.

  79. Leeann Ward
    January 28, 2010 at 10:59 am

    For the record, I agree that vocalist and singer are interchangeable.

  80. Dustin
    January 28, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I am a HUGE fan of Lady A, after buyging their first Album, it became my favorites. I liked their debut album because I honestly could play every songe and sing along – every song on it could have been a single for radio. I built up excitement for “Need You Now” album ever since they released “Need You Now” for radio. However I have listened to this album a couple times from start to finish to only find disappointment. “Need You Now” is the best song on the entire album. I have to say that I quite like “Hello World” as my second favorite along with “Stars Tonight”. Other than those songs, I find myself skipping through the album. In my opinion Lady A took a step backwards with this release (and I am saddened to say that!).

  81. Chris N.
    January 28, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Just my own impression, and it’s not like we hang out all the time, but Taylor Swift is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. To underestimate her is folly.

  82. Jon G.
    January 28, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    @Jon

    Sorry. I thought that it was you who posted “Actually, “not a great vocalist” and “can’t sing” don’t mean the same thing.”

    Sincere apologies for contributing something you didn’t say to you.

  83. Jon
    January 28, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    @Jon G. Sorry. I thought that it was you who posted “Actually, “not a great vocalist” and “can’t sing” don’t mean the same thing.”

    I did, but you took it the wrong way ;-). Substitute “singer” for “vocalist” and the point remains the same; it’s not about the difference between “singer” and “vocalist,” but about the distance between “can’t do it great” and “can’t do it at all.”

  84. nm
    January 28, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Vocalist and singer are interchangeable, I think. But voice (range, timbre, etc.) is different. A great singer can have a technically lousy voice, and, sadly, someone with a beautiful voice can use it to sing badly.

  85. Jon G.
    January 28, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Jon

    Fair enough, I suppose. In that case, sorry for misrepresenting your position on the subject.

    NM
    Essentially the point I was getting at.

  86. Jon G.
    January 28, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Jon

    “In my opinion, ‘technically proficient’ is a largely meaningless term; it’s used almost exclusively to underline an opinion that a given singer fails to convey emotion. I have never seen a set of genre-independent “technical” standards for singing codified anywhere, and I don’t believe one exists.”

    I will disagree with this. The code I was refferring to: notes, in and of themselves. A ‘technically proficient’ singer is one who cares only for the notes on the page, only about sounding as pretty as possible. My point was, as NM said, a singer who cares more about conveying emotion may not sound as automatically appealing but may be much more efficient at gettin the point of a song across.

  87. Vance
    January 28, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    ANd if you think Taylor Swift can’t sing, then you have absolutely ZERO idea what vocal talent is.

    ————

    And since you think she can, you should shut up forever. I’m worse than mediocre and I can sing better than this train wreck. Pretty much anybody here who has left a comment can outsing Taylor Swift, the worst singer in the industry.

    I have to agree with those who have implied that Need You Now is not a country album.

  88. Jon
    January 28, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    I’m sorry, but by introducing terms like “pretty” and “beautiful” as measures of “technical proficiency,” you guys are illustrating my point. What is that they say is in the eye of the beholder? ;-)

  89. nm
    January 28, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    as NM said, a singer who cares more about conveying emotion may not sound as automatically appealing but may be much more efficient at gettin the point of a song across.

    I’m pretty sure that’s not what I said. At least, I didn’t say (and don’t think) that a good voice is automatically appealing. And I didn’t say that the only issue involved in being a good singer is conveying emotion.

    I did say that having a fine voice is not correlated, directly or inversely, with being a fine singer, and I stand by that.

  90. Jon G.
    January 28, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Jon

    I’m sorry. It’s just very hard to get my point across.

    Let me see if example can work better. I hate Carrie Underwood’s voice. It just doesn’t work for me. A lot of people disagree. Although I stand by my oppinion, I can see where there coming from. Judging by musical notes (I’m sure that you’ll agree that notes do, in fact, exist), she is a proficient singer. Things like key, pitch, volume, blah ba blah ba blah, she’s great. However, I do not find her voice appealing or pretty or beautiful or any of those things.

    I, however, do find the that the vocals of artists like Kris Kristofferson, Dwight Yoakam, Dave Matthews, Hank Williams, Trace Adkins, etc. can be exceedingly beatiful. That’s the part where ‘eye of the beholder’ comes into play. Technical proficiency can be measured; beauty cannot.

    NM

    “I did say that having a fine voice is not correlated, directly or inversely, with being a fine singer, and I stand by that.”

    That’s what I said. Words like ‘may’ imply that this is not the case all the time.

  91. nm
    January 28, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    No, I think you’re defining what being fine singer is rather differently than I do. Which is cool. But you’re ascribing your definition to me.

  92. Jon G.
    January 28, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    NM

    Okay. Either I’m misunderstanding you or you’re misunderstanding me.

    All I was saying is that people with good voices who might be technically proficient singers might not be good at conveying emotion. That doesn’t mean that this is always true or that only technically bad singers can convey emotion. As I said, I prefer people who both have reasonably good voices by the standards imposed by timbre, key, pitch, etc. AND can convey emotion. Whew.

    Change of topic?

  93. Wesley B
    January 29, 2010 at 12:45 am

    This review proves how ignorant you are. How can you say that Charles is the Kristian Bush of Sugarland? Charles is the best male voice in country music. Your ignorant commentary discredits you as a critic. Get a real job, I suggest Walmart.

  94. Jon
    January 29, 2010 at 8:04 am

    @Jon G. The problem isn”t communication, it’s content. It’s not that I don’t understand what you’re saying, it’s that I disagree with it. I think the concept of “technical proficiency” is, by and large, inapplicable to singing – and certainly inapplicable in the kind of cross-genre, universal way it’s being used here. And beyond the measurable ability to consistently sing on pitch, I’ll bet you can’t define what you call the “standards imposed by timbre, key, pitch, etc.” in such a way as to show that it has useful meaning.

  95. Jon G.
    January 29, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Jon

    Okay.

    You don’t believe in technically proficient. While I don’t measure my singers based on this (which I guess just backs up your point that it’s somewhat useless, as the bottom line with any kind of art is personal preference), I do think that it exists. I guess we’ll just have to disagree on this.

  96. sam (sam)
    January 29, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Jon G – you say right above that “I don’t measure my singers based on this [technical proficiency].” But in a post above that, you say, “I prefer people who both have reasonably good voices by the standards imposed by timbre, key, pitch, etc, AND can convey emotion.” I think these two statements are in tension.

  97. Jon G.
    January 29, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Sam

    You’re right. I don’t measure my singers SOLELY based on technical proficiency is much more accurate.

  98. Shannon
    February 3, 2010 at 11:07 am

    I agree with Wesley .. Charles Kelly is a very talented vocalist and a breath of fresh air on country radio where vocalists such as Darius Rucker and Taylor Swift are clogging up the airwaves.

  99. Wade
    February 16, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Didnt like the album… i was dissapointed…

  100. Amber
    August 21, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    it seems like no matter what Lady A does someone won’t be satisfied with it. it will never be enough for some people.

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