Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2016-07-01

2016-07-01

Eric Church: Mr. Misunderstood (EMI Nashville, 2015) He should never try to belt a lyric out of the park again ("Kill a Word," "Mr. Misunderstood") ***

Brandy Clark: Big Day in a Small Town (Warner Bros., 2016) As with fellow Class of '13 likely-to-succeeds Ashley Monroe and Kacey Musgraves, Clark's follow-up makes nicer with Nashville than would seem advisable. But where the younger women toned down their themes, Clark bigged up her production, abandoning the folkie decorum of showcase circuit. The opening "Soap Opera" sets the tone: a slightly overstated, unfailingly precise dramatization of Everyperson's appetite for self-dramatization. Soon I was loving the way "Girl Next Door" (she ain't) juxtaposed with "Homecoming Queen" (she was). The way "Broke" rhymed "joke," "folks," "Coke," "croak," "yolks," and "smokes" (although not "toke"). And at the very end, the way "Since You've Gone to Heaven" sentimentalizes her father the better to bemoan the decay of the small town she's never too pious to make fun of. A-

Sam Hunt: Montevallo (MCA Nashville, 2014) Popmeister from a small town hooks women for a living, defies cops for show ("Take Your Time," "Cop Car") *

Tim McGraw: Sundown Heaven Town (Big Machine, 2014) Overbearing when he rocks, quite the charmer when he doesn't ("Meanwhile Back at Mama's," "Diamond Rings and Old Barstools") *

Carrie Underwood: Greatest Hits: Decade #1 (Arista Nashville, 2014) Big enough to command great songs, even to put her hand to a feminist few, but not big enough to trust her indoor voice ("Mama's Song," "Two Black Cadillacs," "Remind Me") **

Carrie Underwood: Storyteller (Arista, 2015) Really actress, not storyteller, although she does have a writing credit on the most impressive thing here--the cross-regional, cross-gender, class-conscious "Smoke Break," in which neither the mother of four working three jobs nor the farm family's first college man can do without the occasional drag or drink, sincere Christians though they be. And whoever wrote them, there are more good tales here than on her double-disc best-of. She still oversings sometimes, as idols will. But finally she's relaxed enough to let the songs narrate for themselves--be they torch-carrying and fuck-you songs, bad girl and justifiable homicide songs, or tonight's-the-night and happily-ever-after songs. A-

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