Oh where to begin here? Admittedly, I’m not at all a country music fan. I don’t flat out dislike the genre, as my ears have perked up over such legends as Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson over the years. Hell, I’ll even admit to liking such greasy classics as Henson Cargill’s “Skip a Rope” or Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date” (which might not actually be country, but it has enough of a classic loping honky-tonk rhythm to me to justify it as so). Oh, and let’s not forget Waylon Jennings’ super-cool theme to The Dukes of Hazzard. You just can’t beat that stuff. And as far as “new country” goes, I’ll even admit to owning the Dixie Chicks’ Fly album. (I listen to it with pride just like I do my Spice Girls discs, Spice and Spice World — yeow!)
But I have to confess that 98% of new country, “Hollywood Country” even, doesn’t do a damn thing for me. So here I am stuck with Lila McCann’s latest release Complete that gets me as excited as hearing a new Tori Amos track (read: not very at all, just to clarify the sarcasm there). I won’t get into the old debate about how Hollywood Country is more grounded in slick pop than the classics by the old regime. Hell, it’s gotten to the point that cable network CMT even has their very own TRL look-alike these days. You can’t tell me that the pop influence hasn’t completely affected Nashville lately.
This is Lila’s third release, and having not heard anything else by her, I can’t offer up a “this is better than [insert previous album here]” review. Ultimately, this gives me a set of fresh ears to experience Lila’s album with, but that doesn’t make the experience any more enjoyable. All I know is that McCann is basically fresh out of high school and gets compared to the likes of Reba McEntire every now and then. Well, you have to start somewhere, I suppose.
My initial assessment is that McCann looks like a Nashville Christina Aguilera and musically sounds like a cross between the pop of Shania Twain and . . . well, all right, maybe a hint of Reba. But pound for pound, the songs on Complete are drowned in the plastic pop excess of the current mainstream airwaves. The only thing remotely “country” about the opening song “Where It Used to Break” is the obligatory occasional bent note guitar twang and just a hint of pedal steel — not too much, mind you, as we wouldn’t want to alienate anyone. Lyrically, it’s another case of breakin’ up and feelin’ free: “How it happened / I haven’t a clue / I just woke up one mornin’ / And was over you / No hallelujah chorus / Nothin’ written in the stars / Just a peaceful feelin’ / Settled on my heart”. As they say in the entertainment biz, “you go, girl”. Unnh.
“She Remembers Love” tugs at the heartstrings of listeners as it plays out its tale of an Alzheimer victim. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing “funny” at all about that, but I have to confess that some of these “topical” country tunes as of late don’t really seem sincere. Of course, when you have other people penning your songs for you, as McCann does here, you’re more or less left to the hands of fate. But still, corny choruses like “But she remembers love / The blue in his eyes / Hot summer nights / It’s like she’s memorized his every touch / And how he swept her heart away / Like it was yesterday / She remembers love” are so completely substandard that they sound like they were borrowed from 30 other songs. Grandma might be losing her memory, but thank God those “hot summer nights” are still vivid. Yeah.
“Like a Rocket” features some odd wah-wah bass lines and some tasty chorused guitar lines, but those fall to the wayside so some completely out of place swooping string sections can come in and take over during the choruses. And if this was Lila’s bid for “rocking”, then forget about it. The tune was written by Julie Burton, Phil O’Donnell, and Noah Gordon. They came up with lines like “Used to be the fastest thing in this whole town / Was a red Corvette with the top rolled down / But next to you on Blackhawk Hill / Makes that look like it’s standing still / I never felt like this with no one else / Yeah, when we kiss I have to brace myself / Like a rocket, this love / Is breathtaking, earth shaking, taking off”. Again, it sounds like a ton of other songs we’ve been treated to before. I especially like how they kept it “safe” for Lila by pointing out that the Corvette was fast, and not McCann herself. Sure.
But this is your standard pop country album with another young singer who has many a fan and sells plenty o’ product. Nothing wrong with that. I just wish it wasn’t yet another carbon copy of the Nashville pop formula that has all but paralyzed the city. Of course, it might be hard to fault McCann solely, as it’s clear to me that these songs are just vehicles for her to vocalize upon. Would she herself write such tunes as “Mighty Mighty Love” and “Lost in Your Love”? Ah well, that’s the thing you’re not supposed to wonder about here. Just turn a blind eye and let the producers pick the words and create the product. McCann’s just another pretty face with some decent vocal ability. Who cares about anything else? Maybe McCann does, maybe she doesn’t. I’m willing to bet somewhere along the line that she’ll grow out of these gooey tunes and want a little more control. Then we’ll see what she’s all about.