Music Reviews 2012 – Casey James
American Idol season 9 veteran, Casey James has recently released his first post Idol record. It’s been two years since his “15 minutes” of big-stage experience in 2010, a career for most former Idol contestants. But Casey is just getting started. His self-titled record came out on March 20th. Unlike most post-Idol first records, this one is far from the “hastily assembled” norm. It’s a rock-solid record start to finish. Fresh, authentic, and full of high points, showcasing Casey at his best. Casey sings of being a “diamond in the mud” and I think it is an apt description.
Casey James was credible on Idol in 2010–does anyone remember his (Jealous Guy) Lennon cover?– and he remains so now. Casey owns co-writing credits on all but two songs on the record. This, ostensibly, is the real Casey. Given how long the record took, it ought to be right and real. His record is produced by Idol’s 19 Recordings Limited, under exclusive license to Sony Music Nashville, as a modern country record.
It’s a southern fried country record too, with a modern country sensibility. It’s got proven southern and country themes–with songs of love and romance in “backroads” settings. And it’s full of great hooks and harmonies. The modern country moniker is perhaps best evidenced by the album’s slick production. Sony Music Nashville gave Casey a royal treatment…..and it suits him well.
Of course, this kind of slick production effort is usually deadpanned by some purists within the genre. Who knew the i-Tunes official reviewer would be a purist? Of course, he didn’t sign his name after he said “Casey James falls through the cracks” and “perhaps the record would have been stronger, or a little more individual, if it was a little less polished.” To this I say, in my best Simon Cowell imitation “pure rubbish.” And in my best Okie voice–“total bullshit.” That i-Tunes reviewer is a dipsh*t, pure and simple. So, what else is new?
All of us know that former Idol contestants are a huge target for all kinds of haters. They will be vilified, no matter what they do, by some—as ardently as they will be supported by their biggest fans. American Idol polarizes a crowd like few other pop culture phenomena.
Country-Pop cross-over appeal can’t be manufactured per se….but is a highly desirable quality when you can achieve it. Does Casey get there on this record? You’ll have to judge for yourself.
For me, Casey’s record is better than I expected it to be….while at the same time being sort of exactly what I expected it to be. The guy can sing, he can play his “cheap guitar.” And he’s a long way from the “cover band in a country bar” that he sings about with great relish. He’s truly a “diamond in the mud,” culled from the modern pop culture gristmill that is American Idol.
On this record, Casey actually gets traction on the emotional front–a must for any serious country artist hoping to achieve and maintain relevance. Country fans (and I sometimes count myself among them) can’t help but get sucked in by songs about people like us. We like trucks and boats and Friday night parties and Saturday’s on the lake, before we thank the Lord on Sunday for all the hot girls “giving me thoughts in me head.” Its fun, fun, fun, and thank the Lord for all the fun….and lets drive the truck to the lake and have some more fun.
Starting with the opener–the Good Life–Casey reels me in with his “No doubt, I’m right where I belong, no part of this road feels wrong. Yeah, it looks like the Good Life’s coming on strong.”
He does it again on no less than four other songs–reels me in, that is. Undone is a soulfully endearing ballad to “the one.” It was also written, along with the opener–Good Life, by Casey and Scooter Carusoe. What better country street-cred can you get than that? Casey and Scooter, Nashville songwriting tandem. But seriously, they have clearly earned their credentials. Undone gets at that raw heartstring, the magical way…with good lyrics, sung well. “Finally, I’ve found the one…..who makes me come undone…..undone, like the clouds pouring out a perfect rain, undone, like the grace of heaven healing my pain, you lying in my arms, me whisperin’ your name….won’t ever be the same.”
A true test of a record, is the ability to avoid the itchy trigger finger on the skip button. And I can honestly say, that I don’t ever get that urge. Even the middling songs offer nifty themes and interesting components. She’s Money delivers the closest thing to a Doobie Brothers boogie that I’ve heard in at least 30 years. Nobody does that anymore. She’s Money delivers that Listen to the Music-esque guitar groove in a way that I can’t help but tap my feet to. It’s hard-wired.
We’ll see how well Casey’s record ultimately does. The i-Tunes official reviewer has already dead-panned it. I’m sure Rolling Stone will be next….I’m expecting someone with an axe to grind will hammer it….on principle. “I hate Idol and this record sucks—overproduced, sell-out, etc.” I can’t wait to read it for myself.
But me, I’m still listening. I like Casey’s record way more than I thought I would. He wasn’t my favorite Idol contestant, but I did enjoy seeing him at his best. I think this record showcases him at his best. And for that, he and his compadres at 19 Recordings deserve due credit. As for you, as always, you’ll just have to decide for yourself. Or not.
Support the Musicians you like~! Enjoy
And give Casey a spin. R/JDPF