March 24, 2006
Billboard singles reviews: Dixie Chicks, Three 6 Mafia
ARTIST: DIXIE CHICKS
SINGLE: NOT READY TO MAKE NICE (Wide Open/Columbia)
Dixie Chicks lead Natalie Maines has never been the type to
tuck her tail, but after an avalanche of combative censure of
the trio at country-radio outlets after her 2003 criticism of
President Bush, one might expect the Chicks' return to avoid
ruffling feathers. Nothing doing. "Not Ready to Make Nice"
expresses Maines' hurt and disbelief over the uproar: "They say
time heals everything, but I'm still waiting/I'm mad as hell,
can't bring myself to do what it is you think I should." The
melancholy anthem, produced by Rick Rubin, is beautifully
layered, melodically crafty and refreshingly impetuous. Sony is
simultaneously taking the song to adult top 40, adult
contemporary and country radio stations. Across all platforms,
this is among the major releases of 2006.
ARTIST: THREE 6 MAFIA
SINGLE: POPPIN MY COLLAR (Sony Urban/Columbia)
Academy Award-winning rap act Three 6 Mafia is feeding the
nationwide craze for the polarizing Southern rap trend. The
follow-up to debut single "Stay Fly" is "Poppin My Collar,"
which basically means staying fly, indicates the undying
popularity of the South's bouncy tracks and repetitive hooks.
Three 6 Mafia is simply doing its thing, and guilty pleasure
songs like this will continue to draw listeners, including the
mass of undercover collar-poppers.
ARTIST: CHRIS RICE
SINGLE: WHEN DID YOU FALL (IN LOVE WITH ME) (INO/Columbia)
Christian-cum-AC chart-maker Chris Rice has one of the most
memorable lyrical lines in years in mainstream breakthrough
"When Did You Fall (In Love With Me)" when he sings, "I can
tell by the way you're looking at me/I better finish this song
so my lips will be free." It embodies the breezy attitude of
this jazzy, stream-of-consciousness track about that
spectacular moment when the deal is sealed. This song, from the
must-have album "Amusing," is a reminder of the '80s, when
songs broke from the pack simply based on merit and memorable
hooks. The little-known Rice's single is a song
adult-contemporary radio can claim as its own.
ARTIST: MARIO VASQUEZ
SINGLE: GALLERY (Arista)
When Mario Vasquez abruptly resigned from last season's
"American Idol" top 12 without explanation, rumors swirled that
he was in label negotiations and would bypass the "AI"
rigamarole. Exactly one year later, the dynamic Latino singer
shows up on -- gasp -- Clive Davis' Arista Records, part of the
parent label that signed victors Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia and
Carrie Underwood. English and Spanglish versions of the track
on the promo single court multiple formats. And while it takes
a handful of spins to fully seduce the ears, the song showcases
Vasquez's warm, appealing vocal quality. The singer bowed out
of the show before we were able to appreciate his charms, and
while it is difficult not to view him as an opportunist who did
little to earn his standing, "Gallery" paints the portrait of a
potentially lasting artist.
ARTIST: DANIELLE PECK
SINGLE: FINDIN' A GOOD MAN (Big Machine)
Almost any female singer worth her record deal can do an
effective job on a nice ballad, but not everyone has the spunk
and grit to make an uptempo tune leap out of the speakers.
Country artist Danielle Peck treads familiar lyrical ground
with sass and attitude. The song explores a never-ending
challenge: the persistent hunt for a good man. Spiced with
fiddle, insinuating guitar, enthusiastic background vocals and
a few hand claps, the single is a high-energy romp tailor-made
for springtime radio.
SINGLE: PAPERTHIN HYMN (Tooth & Nail)
In the aftermath of a breakup, anger and sadness drag the
sufferer on an emotional roller coaster. Rock act Anberlin's
"Paperthin Hymn" reflects that seesawing of pain and aggression
in rich style: Listeners who loathe sappy songs will appreciate
the hard-edged expression of those sentiments. Joseph Milligan
and Nathan Strayer's muscular guitars make the channeling
effective. For the roaring choruses, the guitars work like two
rhythm sections, one playing what sounds like a burning version
of the lick in Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer." Nathan
Young's propulsive drums and Deon Rexroat's almost subliminal
bass line brace the structure. Topped with Stephen Christiana's
earnest vocals, it is a tough song with great chops all around.
ARTIST: JIMMY JAMES
SINGLE: FASHIONISTA (Made Records)
Once in a great while, a camp anthem squirms its way out of
the gay ghetto into the pop-culture world at large (a la
RuPaul's "Supermodel"). "Fashionista," by veteran New York
performance artist Jimmy James, is so damn clever, it is hard
not to offer a howling squeal of approval before clicking
replay -- again and again. Particularly memorable is James'
"Vogue"-like rant: "Sean John, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan's
fashion line/Valentino, YSL, Ferragamo and Chanel/Halston,
Gucci, Fiorucci, don't forget my Pucci." Now that is some
rhyming. The song is obviously an homage to the high-fashion
scene, but James ends up paving his own runway with originality
and enough grit and wit to make this bitchy dance ditty a
worthy entry for mainstream approval.