Sing we now of Christmas, Noel, sing we here!

I’m always amazed every year how unexpected seasonal albums suddenly pop up from seemingly nowhere as each turn of the calendar gets closer to December, but even as dismal and unsettling as 2020 has been, a short list of new Christmas albums somehow managed to appear and command my seasonal attention: Tori Amos’ Christmastide EP, It’s Christmas All Over from the Goo Goo Dolls, A Holly Dolly Christmas by Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood’s My Gift. [Click here to read my thoughts on each]

Our New Year

new year

As one year ebbs and a new one begins, it always seems apt to reflect on the bygone before hurling full speed ahead into the future…

Sadly, the music industry mourned the loss of  some legendary and iconic individuals in 2012 including: Whitney Houston, Davy Jones, Earl Scruggs, Dick Clark, Levon Helm, Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, Marvin Hamlisch, and Etta James. It’s always tragic to see such a long list in any given year. Although they are gone, their contributions will be remembered and honored posthumously.

The past year also saw some decidedly notable musical contributions from Tori Amos, Kenny Chesney, Susanna Hoffs, Matthew Perryman Jones, Madonna, Alanis Morissette, and Carrie Underwood, as well as the high octane trilogy delivered with a gutsy 1-2-3 wallop from Green Day.

Now we look ahead to 2013, which promises to deliver some highly anticipated new releases from Panic! at the Disco, David Bowie, CherJosh Groban, Darius Rucker, Stereophonics, Brad Paisley, Depeche Mode, Mariah Carey, Lady Antebellum, Justin Timberlake, Beady Eye, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, and Lady Gaga.

As we bid adieu to 2012 and to those we lost along the way, at least we can look ahead to 2013 with a renewed spirit and high expectations of good things to come on the musical horizon.

Carrie Underwood Blows Away Twang Town

Carrie live

(Photo by: Eric Allen)

I was completely blown away (pun intended) by Carrie Underwood’s most recent appearance at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. Not only was her Blown Away Tour amid the best country concerts I’ve ever seen, but the country music sweetheart’s extraordinary gig was without a doubt the best vocal performance this eager music enthusiast has ever had the pleasure of hearing in my many years of attending live shows.

The show began with a video displaying a house swept up and swirling into the air and concluding with a replica on stage, which provided a red doorway Underwood used to make her grand entrance. Dressed to the hilt in a sparkling, flowing blue and black gown (analogous to the one which adorns the diva’s most recent platinum album), Underwood emerged with a radiant smile as she waved to admiring fans and tore into her recent number one single “Good Girl.” The evening’s nearly 2-hour concert was jammed pack with greatest hits from the Grand Ole Opry member’s entire catalog, along with a healthy dose of tracks from her latest album, Blown Away, as well as a surprisingly rocking cover version of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion.”

The set list was loaded with enough hits to satisfy casual fans and die-hards alike, which laudably demonstrated Underwood’s diversified catalog and growth as both an artist and songwriter. The multiple Grammy-winning vocalist’s musical arsenal tackled some hard hitting subject matter including: cheating, abuse, murder, and of course, love during the evening, all of which had the enthusiastic crowd singing along.

Halfway through the set, a portion of the stage was converted into a makeshift hot air balloon, which rotated as it hurled Underwood and her band mates through the air and over the crowd, giving everyone in the venue a bird’s eye view of the country superstar as she belted out several numbers. Underwood was later joined on stage by a surprise guest appearance from country crooner and resident comedian Brad Paisley for a version of the duo’s hit duet “Remind Me,” which caused Underwood to tear up with emotion.

Throughout the performance, various rural images (akin to Underwood’s own hometown of Checotah, Oklahoma) filled the stage’s multi-angled screens, augmenting each number with a three dimensional effect, yet never overshadowing the music or Underwood’s dominant, pitch-perfect vocals. The evening’s encore was a gut-wrenching performance of latest hit single and album title track “Blown Away” (complete with video footage of a house being destroyed by a twister as smoke and debris blew across the stage, a la a virtual tornado), after which Underwood exited into what looked like a storm shelter, then the sexy siren disappeared from view.

Way to go Carrie, as you undoubtedly made an unforgettable impact on a legion of lifetime fans (including this one) in Music City.

© 2012 Popmartzoo

Carrie Underwood: ‘Blown Away’

Country’s powerhouse diva and multi-Grammy winner Carrie Underwood bursts back onto the country music scene with her latest album Blown Away. Blasting off with the red-hot barnburner and current hit single “Good Girl,” the 2005 American Idol winner’s fourth studio release is loaded with an abundantly rich amount of high caliber songs (eight of which were co-written by Underwood with some of Nashville’s best writers), which grab you instantly on the nearly seamless 55-minute disc.

The album’s aphotic cover immediately alludes to the more mature and darker material found on Blown Away, which may simultaneously surprise and satisfy skeptics and fans alike. “Some people called it taking shelter/She called it sweet revenge/Every tear-soaked whiskey memory blown away,” belts Underwood on the title track about a motherless girl who prays a tornado will blow away her abusive, alcoholic father along with her painful memories and childhood home.

“Two Black Cadillacs” is an ominous tale of a wife and mistress working together to off their lover after accidentally discovering he had been cheating on both of them with a third lover. “Two black Cadillacs meeting for the first time/One is for his wife, the other for the woman who loved him at night/The women in the two black veils didn’t bother to cry/Threw a handful of dirt into the deep ground,” sings Underwood in an evocative and vengeful tone.

The stripped-down acoustic twang of the mid-tempo “Do You Think About Me” is a welcome break in the album’s tension, proving long-time Underwood producer Mark Bright is capable of knowing when to allow for a moment to exhale during his frequently distracting overblown production gimmicks, which clumsily includes some cringe-worthy backing vocal arrangements.

Unfortunately, Blown Away includes a couple of hiccups, most notably the cutesy twanger “Cupid’s Got A Shotgun” and the unremarkable “Leave Love Alone,” but even after deleting those two musical missteps from your iPod’s playlist, you’ll still have a solid 12-track killer of an album.

Blown Away
displays considerable artistic and creative growth in both Underwood’s songwriting and selection of material, as evidenced on the feel-good island ditty “One Way Ticket,” which sounds like the kind of summery tune Kenny Chesney would eagerly arm-wrestle to get his hands on. Also, the impassioned “See You Again,” the compelling “Wine After Whiskey,” and the Mutt Lange-penned closer “Who Are You,” all demonstrate a new depth and maturity in Underwood’s canon of contemporary country. While previous efforts seemed a bit unfocused and disseminated, Blown Away is more thematic and unified, resulting in Underwood’s strongest effort to date, which easily leaves her previous releases twisting in the wind.

© 2012 ForASong Media, LLC