Friday, December 10, 2010

Crystal Bowersox – Farmers Daughter .. Johnny D’s Advance Review

Crystal Bowersox, American Idol’s season 9 runner up, has her debut CD completed and it will be released on Tuesday December 14.  I’ve managed to obtain copy of the CD and I have spent the last two days listening to the 12 tracks. 

Those of you that follow Idol Chatter at (here) know that Crystal has been my favorite topic of 2010.  I’ve been very vocal in my Criticism of Ms. Bowersox.  I’ve expressed on several occasions that her CD would be a great disappointment to her fans. I’ve said that the comparisons to Melissa Etheridge and other established female singers is completely unwarranted and that Crystal has a very weak voice and is not strong enough to be compared to such great voices. 

Well, early yesterday I come to possess a copy of her cd.  Immediately I listened to track #4, Farmers Daughter.  I’ve seen a performance of this song on YouTube and was not impressed.  I spouted off that her stubbornness to have Farmers Daughter switched to the first single released would be her demise.  Well, this version is a little more polished than what I’ve heard on youtube,  Yet I still don’t like it.  It would seem that Crystals mom didn’t like being a mother and was an alcoholic.  Even worse, her mom on one occasion beat Crystal til she broke bones.  The story is a disturbing one. I’m sure we all are stirred when hearing a story of child abuse.  My heart goes out to Crystal for what she had to endure in her formative years. I feel for her that, even now, a well grounded relationship with a loving mother is something she’ll never know.  I’m even more thankful for the love my mother gave me and I’m reminded how much I miss her.  There’s just disconnected emotions here.  Perhaps I’m over critical, I have been accused of that once or twice before.  In my opinion, Crystal should have listened a few times to a song like Alive by Pearl Jam.  If she could have captured a bit of Eddie’s expressiveness this song could be a huge hit.  As it is, it is a very amateurish presentation.  As I listen to this first song I have to give her credit that her vocals are well delivered even if I’m not approving of her happy humming.  In fairness, I’m giving this song a tie.  Every bad song on this CD will be a win for me. Every good song will be a win for Crystal and her supporters on Idol Chatter.

So, after I’ve checked out Farmers Daughter I start the cd at track 1.  Riding With The Radio is a sunshiny song that from the beginning reminds you of a countryish / rock song blasting from a classic 60s convertible riding down a country road.  Some of the lyrics are a bit clumsy but it’s mostly a fun tune.  Light in mood and sweet in tempo.

“If you wanna sing a song then just sing it.

If you wanna bring a friend just bring him”

Very nice.

Track 2 is a cover.  Buffalo Springfield’s “For What it’s Worth”.  This song suits me just fine because I get to criticize Crystal.  I think it was a bad choice of a cover for her.  It’s a song from the sixties that, to my thinking, had some significance in the sixties.  Crystal, for me, accentuates the “going down” in a way that really means nothing.  It’s as if she has something she’s trying to say but refuses to let us in on it. 

At this point, Crystal is 1-1-1 … a win with Track one, For What it’s Worth is definitely a loss, and Farmers Daughter is a no contest. (she doesn’t win and i don’t win)  My internal scoreboard is prepared to deliver a TKO to Crystals CD and I’m looking forward to it. 

Next up, Holy Toledo.  A song we heard a snippet of during the week of three on Idol.  Remember, she went home to Toledo and performed at “Bowerstock”.  It starts out…

“Living life from day to day,

reading books from page to page,

I know life is just my stage.” 

I’m drawn to the tenderness of her voice from the start. The simple guitar and the tender backing vocals draw me right in.  Of course we’re brought to the chorus with Crystal questioning “How do I get to heaven from here”.  A very cliché type of lyric but it really serves this song well.  As the song moves toward the end she goes higher in her register demanding to know “how the hell am I going to get to heaven”.  Singing High notes was a a spot where I had believed Crystal was lacking during her run on American Idol.  Here on this song she sounds just fine.  Holy Toledo and Farmers Daughter were two songs that going in I had resolved to find fault with.  After listening to both, Holy Toledo has switched lists. It’s now one of my favorite songs on this CD.

Crystal is winning right now 2-1 with Farmers daughter still a no contest.

Track 5, Lonely Won’t Come Around.  This starts out almost like the cutesy music you’d hear on a song by The Script or Train. This is a song that I totally can’t describe.  A quick tempo and a lightness of heart that I was not expecting to hear from Ms. Bowersox.  i wish I could remember what I thought of this song the first time I listened. I’m on about the 8th play of the disc now and I’m liking this one a lot.  If there’s any song to compare it to I would say it’s All I wanna Do from Sheryl Crowe.

Track 6, Hold On.  Within the first 30 seconds you know that this is the song Kara and chad Kroeger wrote for her.  I went to the net and checked her twitter page and found out that I was right.  This song will be a hit for her.  You have to figure that her label will make sure that this single gets a shot at radio.  With Kara and Chad writing it you’d think that it almost has to.  It’s true what many have said about this cd.  Six tracks in and even my uncultured ears hear the Country influence to these tracks. There’s a lot of music backing her and her voice is just right all the way through.  Great production here as well.  the end of the song is fantastic. 

Crystal’s ahead 4-1 but there’s still a tie where the song “Farmers Daughter” is concerned.

Track seven “On The Run”.  Even more of a country sound coming at us.  A playful bluesy feel to her voice as well, some harmonica in there then a deep gravelly “i’m on the run”.  Quick step through the hopscotch quick licks, back to the lyrics with that playful edge to her voice “I’m just looking for some fun”.  Never during her run on American Idol was she ever even as close to sexy as she would be if she were standing across the street from it.  Now she’s sauntering right down the middle of that heralded avenue.

Kiss Ya.  Here’s a rock tune.  Perhaps this is what some AI viewers were thinking of when they would say that Crystal can sing Janis Joplin.  While i believe this is far from Joplinesque (i just invented a word) it is certainly a rock tune.  This song is top three on the album for me. I really think this could be a mass media hit if it weren’t for her insistence on the word “Shit” making a starring role in the chorus.  There’s some nice keyboards and some good ad lib by Crystal two and a half minutes in. You notice about now that she has chosen backup singers wisely as well, they really do add something special to this song. 

I forget the score now. I do know that I have one win. 

#9 Speak Now.  I feel for Brian Mansfield right about now. Finding something unique to say about every song on a CD is hard work.  In short, this is an enjoyable song, a bluesy feel, a story teller kind of song. I really like the crescendo that Crystal takes us to at the end of the song. I know that Lee Dewyze is the one that performed with Chicago on the finale of American Idol, but I could very easily see Crystal doing that song with a full band like Chicago.  Just imagine a great horns section being added to this song! 

I remember now, the score is 7-1 crystals way with one tie on the song Farmers Daughter.

Crystal’s due for a bad song, I mean, come on, seven out of nine songs are good so far.  This tenth song has to be crappy.  Wrong again!  Mine All Mine.  I am no expert but this sure feels like it leans more toward a country song.  A wonderful piece of piano in there and that certain guitar sound that I think they play horizontally with the steel tube running along the neck of the guitar.  Crystal shows us her girly side.

 “no one else will do,

Baby are you mine all mine”.

  I can see her in a southern belle ruffled dress swinging on a rope swing from an old oak tree by a lake, day dreaming about a mister right in her future. 

Dammit, 8-1-1.  Now we’re up to Mason.  A song that Crystal wrote with her husband Brian Walker and they sing this song together.  It’s a country song, rich guitars and very warm music. Lyrically this is the best song on the disc. Hell, THIS IS THE BEST SONG ON THE CD, and, there’s a sharp pain where my negative opinion of Crystals ability used to reside at the base of my skull. This song had better be released as a single.  the song starts with both voices then the music joins them

“I wanna be your mason baby,

I wanna build a life with you.” 

Brian:  “I wanna take all this love i feel

and make a love that is stronger than steel with you”. 

This is an excellent duet.  The chorus is just beautiful.  It’s the sort of song that makes me want to find a woman to love just to sing to her.

So we’ve made it through 11 songs, I’ve taken a huge beating and am down 9 good Crystal songs, one bad crystal song (and that’s the Buffalo Springfield cover) and one “no-decision” the abused childhood song Farmer’s Daughter.

Now Arlene.  My imagination goes here, is this some feminist anthem?  I could really get myself worked up in a lather and go over the top with criticism of something like that.  To be honest, even after the very first listen, I figured I’d probably like the last song. 

Well, it’s hard not to like this song.  Arlene opens to a single rich guitar.  The opening music goes almost thirty seconds before Crystal’s voice comes in.  I’m not very good at finding an interpretation for songs.  To my small mind I’d believe that Arlene is the name that Crystal has given to the girl that lives inside the mirror of her bathroom medicine cabinet.

“her diesel’s humming,

she’s gaining ground,

she don’t need another man just hanging around,

she knows that money don’t equal wealth,

if you want it done right,

you’ve got to do it yourself”

To my friends from Idol Chatter, I humbly forfeit.  We’ve spoken about record sales predictions and how I believe that she’ll sell as few as 25,000 units her first week and that this album will leave her merely a memory from the season nine Idol competition.  I am now of a mind that if this album does not receive critical acclaim, on the same level if not greater than Adam Lambert from season 8, there’s something wrong with the average music listener. 

As we ended Idols season nine I had pounded my chest and declared that Crystal had no shot with the Folk Rock sound that she was most likely to bring with her first record.  Well it would seem that me, and most Idol fans were totally wrong. Crystal has brought us an album that is practically equal parts rock and country with a healthy dose of blues and just a touch of that feminist or folksy feel.  I wish I could remember the names of my friends on Idol Chatter that insisted that Crystal was a totally unique artist and preached to the rest of the group that we were silly to attempt to pigeon hole her.  You, my friends, were totally right and I was totally wrong. I’m very glad. 

I would remind you that back in January of 2010, when I first saw Crystal perform during Chicago auditions, I predicted she’d be huge. As you can see, as we will all see, Crystal has a big future ahead of her. 

I’d be glad to hear your thoughts,




schifan said...

Thank you John, I read quite a number of your comments and predictions for Crystal on idol chatter and assumed that you were just another hateful person who had nothing better to do, pretty heavily invested in her if I may say so. But I guess you really felt that way about her and now after listening to the CD she has totally changed your mind (about her music at least).

This my friend is the MOST HONEST review of an album we could ever get I believe. Forget the NYT, RS, ETs, this is a review everyone should read before they purchase her album. Its very well written, and you've done an excellent job on the track-by-track analysis. I really like your picks by the way.

Its weird that everyone is picking a different track as their favorite. My absolute favorite is Speak Now, I am just blown away by it. The soul infused organs, the jimi hendrix/eric clapton-esque guitar solos and Mamas gospelly soulful interpretations. She really belts out that one to the wall. The other favorites include HT, KY, Arlene, FD, OTR and Mason.

Some factual stuffs: Arlene was written about her bus driver while she was on AI tour, but as you said I think a lot of the lyrics relate to her as well - 'You want it done right, you gotta do it yourself'. She has been self-promoting herself alot since idol, aligning with big names and tweeting her news alot, but in this day and age for a folk/rock singer-songwriter like hers thats the only way to go, you really gotta do it yourself. And she knows she has to tour a lot to win fans and cannot rely on the mass media or the radio to pick up her songs to play on them. I am also thrilled that AAA is gonna start playing farmers daughter on 01/10/2011 because that seems to be her audience rather than top 40. I am hoping the second single on that would be Speak Now or Kiss Ya.

Well, I really enjoyed reading this, I will be visiting this blog more often to check your "thoughts" lol. Thank you for being honest in your review, peace out.

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